Astronomy

What would Happen to Life on Earth if the Sun were to Switch off like a Light Bulb



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What really happens the instant the sun blinks off? Nothing at all, for about eight minutes, the time it takes light to travel to Earth from the sun. Then it would truly be a terrifying darkness that would engulf the planet. Even the moon just reflects light and gives none. Also, the moon pulls the tides, so oceans could only slosh about on their own. Light from the Milky Way would offer faint light, as in a deep, dark night, but Sol, this solar system's sun, would instantly be missed by most living beings that depend upon the sun.

The sun is not going out, but if it did, what really happens depends upon human reaction. All plants and animals, except for some sub-subterranean and  deep sea organisms, would most likely react as if it were night. Photosynthesis, the source of all energy, would cease. Fossil fuels, which store energy, would last for awhile, but the extreme cold, everywhere below freezing, would likely consume all the fossil fuels quite quickly. When all the earthly lights go out, life slowly expires as well. Even heating fires would not work for long, as plant material is needed for fuel, and oxygen is needed for fire to burn.

Would people panic and riot over resources, or come together to preserve life for the short time left? If history is any example, there are incidents of both cooperative and combative reactions to disasters. This disaster would be the biggest ever. Sunlight drives the photosynthesis of all vegetation. Plants are miraculous, in that they make food out of light. No other organism can do so.

Without the sun, only extremophiles, organisms that evolved to live without photosynthesis, could live. These tiny micro-organisms could simply begin again the long, arduous journey toward diversity of life, but humans would not be much help to assist, as human beings are wholly dependent upon plants making oxygen, and, therefore, life. In such a scenario, all human ingenuity would be of little use. The time of cold and dark would test every limit of human technology. The resulting human/plant/animal starvation and desperation would probably be seen as the end of the world. Worldwide religions would have precious little time to agree as to whether it was God’s judgment, wrath or deliverance, or rapture, for those of faith to be whisked off to another place.

What about global warming and climate change? Some people might think a colder Earth is a nice respite for recovery for all the damage over-heating has caused planet Earth. However, unless the sun was powered back on relatively quickly, within one week or so, it is unlikely that life could return to normal. There would be so much frozen and destroyed, and so much death of plant and animal life, that considerable clean-up and sanitation would take some time.

Were a few to find an underground bunker, somehow manage to stock it with a century of food, air, water and recorded memory of “life,” it could theoretically be possible for a very small handful of human beings to escape. No one has ever come close to such an experiment. Even living in space or in submarine environments has always previously been wholly dependent upon the life and light available at Earth’s surface. Having some idea of what "life" is: bio-diverse, inter-woven systems of symbiosis and self-regulation, would be critically important or survivors would die of psychological despair. Humans evolved with other life forms, and biophilia and ecopsychology require them to need all the aspects of a living world.

It is likely that even the surface of Earth's oceans would freeze. If any liquid water remained, it would have to be beneath a very cocooned layer of either land or ocean. Perhaps in the very far future, the prospect of fast frozen genetic material being reconstituted is possible. Other than that, it is probably wise to stop a moment and consider gratitude for the rising every morning of the sun.

The best outcome for this thought experiment is for earthlings to take seriously the truth that life is fragile and precious. It can never be taken for granted, because all living systems are interconnected. The idea of being separate, as Albert Einstein said, is an optical delusion. In this case, sadly, it would be a delusion only visible by the light of very distant stars.

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://science1.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2008/30oct_ftes/
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://biology.clc.uc.edu/courses/bio104/photosyn.htm
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://science.howstuffworks.com/life/cellular-microscopic/extremophile.htm
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://serenityinthegarden.blogspot.com/2011/04/ecopsychology-solastalgia-biophilia-and.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.goodreads.com/quotes/369-a-human-being-is-a-part-of-the-whole-called