The Tech Herald

The Sun will destroy planet Earth in 7.6bn years

by Stevie Smith - Feb 25 2008, 18:44

Science report suggests that the Sun will absorb the Earth in 7.6 billion years. Credit: LaserGuided/Flickr.

There currently isn’t a sun cream in existence with sufficient factor value to counteract the upcoming bombardment our solar system’s star will eventually unleash upon the Earth, according to predictions issued by astronomers at the University of Sussex.

We can only hope that 7.6 billion years of evolution, which is how long those astronomers are suggesting it will take for the expanding Sun to absorb the Earth, is sufficient time to see mankind long since gone amid the stars.

According to Dr. Robert Smith, Emeritus Reader in Astronomy, previous calculations related to the expansion of the Sun indicated that although the Earth would be burnt to a crisp, it would likely be spared from total destruction. However, the university team now believes that the outer atmosphere of the dying star will actually cause Earth to drift into the Sun.

“We showed previously that, as the Sun expanded, it would lose mass in the form of a strong wind, much more powerful than the current solar wind. This would reduce the gravitational pull of the Sun on the Earth, allowing the Earth's orbit to move outwards, ahead of the expanding Sun,” explained Dr. Smith in the new science paper, which was co-written with Dr. Klaus-Peter Schroeder.

“If that were the only effect the Earth would indeed escape final destruction. However, the tenuous outer atmosphere of the Sun extends a long way beyond its visible surface, and it turns out the Earth would actually be orbiting within these very low density outer layers. The drag caused by this low-density gas is enough to cause the Earth to drift inwards, and finally to be captured and vaporised by the Sun.”

7.6 billion years is some way off and people are unlikely to be overly concerned by the paper’s prediction, which is compounded by the fact that scientists believe the Sun’s gradual expansion will turn Earth into a barren and uninhabitable rock in around 1 billion years.

While the extinction of mankind and the destruction of Earth appear certainties, Dr. Smith offers that a team working out of Santa Cruz University believe it’s possible to prolong the planet’s survival by a further 4 billion years if man can periodically harness the gravitational effects of a passing asteroid to nudge Earth’s orbit so that it slowly moves away from the Sun.

Conceding that the plan sounds like science fiction, Dr. Smith maintains that “the energy requirements are just about possible and technology could be developed over the next few centuries” to make it a reality. However, he also warns that miscalculations could see the asteroid fatally impact the Earth, reports Science Daily, before suggesting that “a fleet of interplanetary ‘life rafts’ could manoeuvre themselves always out of the reach of the Sun,” as a much safer solution.

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