gamma ray bursts

On TV: Last Days On Earth

A while back I saw parts of a show on the History Channel called Last Days on Earth. On Wednesday, I got the opportunity to watch the program in its entirety. Last Days on Earth is a 20/20 (ABC television newsmagazine) science special that originally aired back in August 2006. From the ABC News website on August 31 of that year:

“Last Days on Earth” is a program that could change the way you see your world and yourself.

The world’s top scientists, including Stephen Hawking, considered the foremost living theoretical physicist, describe seven riveting scenarios detailing the deadliest threats to humanity.

Some can destroy the planet, others have the ability to render us extinct, and all have the power to destroy civilization.

How likely are they to occur, and what exactly would happen if they did, and could we survive?

“Last Days on Earth” goes beyond science fiction to science fact.

Using state-of-the-art visual effects, it will take viewers on a journey that is both breathtaking and terrifying, from the outer reaches of the universe to the inner world of DNA, with an around-the-globe tour in between.

The “seven riveting scenarios” the ABC News piece referred to were:

7. Death Of A Star- Gamma Ray Bursts, Black Hole
6. Intelligent Machines
5. Super Volcano
4. Asteroid
3. Nuclear War
2. Plague
1. Climate Change (Global Warming)

Breaking these dangers down, numbers 7 (gamma ray bursts and black holes resulting from the death of a star) and 5 (eruption of super volcano) are threats to humanity that are beyond our control. Numbers 6 (intelligent machines that achieve self-awareness) and 4 (asteroid colliding with Earth) are threats we might be able to mitigate as time seems to be on our side. Numbers 3 through 1 (nuclear war, plague, and climate change) appeared to be the most pressing for the human race- at least, as the producers were concerned.

In the Last Days on Earth, nuclear war was most likely to come about by accident. Plague would probably result from the deliberate release of a human-engineered superbug. And the show claimed that climate change (global warming) was already underway due to the release of massive amounts of CO2 people are releasing into the atmosphere.

So, could humans survive these seven deadliest threats to humanity? The Last Days on Earth didn’t really go into specifics. However, while a gamma ray burst or black hole would almost certainly mean we’d be toast, I’d speculate that a number of these dangers might be survivable. At least initially. And humans might have some influence over the outcome, as prevention could play a significant role in mitigating threats from intelligent machines, asteroids, nuclear war, plague, and global warming. However, planning and action would need to be implemented immediately to increase the odds for survival.

Overall, Last Days on Earth was extremely interesting despite the depressing material. I especially enjoyed hearing what the world’s top scientists had to say about the different threats to humanity. The special does a good job in identifying potential dangers. However, if you’re looking for information on surviving these events, Last Days on Earth is only a starting point. Much more research will need to be done on your part.

Last Days on Earth shows up on the History Channel from time to time. If you’d like to view it now, the program has been uploaded to YouTube in twelve parts, which you can access in a playlist on SPTV here.

(Editor’s note: Links placed on “Resources” page and SPTV)

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Christopher E. Hill, Editor
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