General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

How long could the Earth sustain life?

Asked by AstroChuck (36377 points ) September 23rd, 2008

Suppose the sun were to just vanish. What would happen? The sun is approximately 93,000,000 miles away, which means that it would be nearly 8 1/2 minutes before we would even know that it was gone. After that would we have any chance of survival? Could we tap the heat from the Earth’s core and live underground? If so, there is the issue of food and water. Any thoughts?

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24 Answers

Seesul's avatar

Cash it in, Chuck, cash it in.
What would life be worth without your tropical paradise?

RandomMrdan's avatar

we could live underground…but I’m not so sure the earth’s core would stay warm for a long time. I think we’d be screwed. Unless this happens like 200 years from now, and space travel is real common and you can go to your local spacesport and take a trip to another solar system.

AstroChuck's avatar

Just the force of the Earth’s gravity should get the core molten for some time, I would think.

Fieryspoon's avatar

It depends on what you mean by life. The cockroaches would live.

You could tap the core for energy (Geothermal Heat Pump), but that wouldn’t help the plants very much. It would take a huge effort to get enough energy to sustain enough plant matter to sustain a human population.

It’s kind of related to what happened when asteroids hit the earth, like with the dinosaurs, when dust covered the sun for years. In case you were wondering, they didn’t make it.

Ibrooker's avatar

It’s interesting to note that there is actually life on earth that does not depend on solar energy for survival. These systems are chemosynthetically based and the best (perhaps only known) example is the existence of hydrothermal vents in the ocean from which tube worms derive energy. These existence extremely deep under water in abyssal zone (I think) where no light can penetrate. I would suggest wikipedia’s article on hydrothermal vents for more information.

RandomMrdan's avatar

can you imagine how cold it would get on the surface? And then take into effect how much time it would take to get to the core of the earth, and then think of how many people could fit down there.

I’m not even sure cockroaches would survive in extreme cold. Earth would probably turn into a barren planet.

Not to mention the weather would dramatically change..I’d imagine the gravitational pull to the sun and the planet being in orbit around a dead sun would even still exist.

Some life might still exist…but it wouldn’t be us, and it won’t be anything we know now on the surface of the planet.

AstroChuck's avatar

@fieryspoon- Actually, cockroaches can only live in warm climates (or in heated homes) so I would think they would likely parish. Of course, if they were to go deep underground…

MissAnthrope's avatar

There are some species of microorganism that can survive extreme temperatures, but I’d say that’d be about it. Humans may survive for a while if we were able to continue artificially heating our homes, but Earth would get awfully barren and cold. The photosynthetic organisms would die out fairly quickly, as would the wild creatures that eat plants or eat animals that eat plants. Humans would have to come up with some alternate food sources in order to survive that part of it.

AstroChuck's avatar

I don’t see us living on the surface in any case.

RandomMrdan's avatar

I don’t see us living on this planet if the sun went out.

fireside's avatar

I think we have to start with how the sun vanished.

If it exploded and incinerated the Earth, then no.
If it imploded and creates a massive black hole that sucked in the Earth, then no.
If it simply disappeared as though a giant alien teleported it away, then the Earth would fall out of orbit, planets would possibly collide and the Earth would stop spinning because the molten core would cool.

Given the last scenario, I’d give most, if not all, life on the planet a year or less, depending on colliding planetary bodies.

AstroChuck's avatar

I was imagining a completely hypothetical event in which the sun simply vanished for no reason. But you can play around with logic and hypothesize scientifically if it makes you feel better.
Also, I don’t see the planets just colliding with one another. Although, given enough time, I would think that all matter in the solar system would eventually orbit or collide with Jupiter as it has such a large gravity well.

fireside's avatar

If the sun went away, we would all be frozen within hours, maybe a day.

Seesul's avatar

I’ve been in enough mines to know that I don’t want to go underground, especially in California, with the threat of earthquakes.

Skyrail's avatar

Maybe this global warming thing isn’t such a bad thing after all then hey? If it gave us more of a fighting chance in such a scenario I’m all up for it!

Ibrooker's avatar

I think a minority of the global population could survive for a reasonably long time. A bunch of people will be totally inequipped and die right away. However, there will be some communities, I imagine, in unique circumstances that could sustain life for a while. It would be unsustainable, but people could live off of their reserves for a while in the extreme cold. There’s no reason people couldn’t burn forests and carbon based fuels for heat and live off of stockpiles of food (which would ironically be preserved for them by freezing…) A sustainable existence like this is not plausible though…

RandomMrdan's avatar

try and focus on what the masses of people are going to do? probably immediate looting. it’d be complete chaos, nothing would get accomplished. Not to mention it’d be super cold really really fast.

If we had time to prepare for something like this….maybe underground shelters with tons of preserved foods, and a plan to move away from this planet and to a new one with a sun that is still working.

If we didn’t have time to prepare, it’d be crazy and I doubt anyone would live for very long.

Seesul's avatar

It’s kind of like the 60’s and the fallout shelter idea. The question raised at the time was, you do all of this preparation, go underground, and then what? Is that really life?

Zaku's avatar

I think it’s theoretically possible for humans to survive that, much as lbrooker answered, except I don’t think the planets will hit each other, and I don’t think the core will cool down all that much. The most weighty factor I see is whether humans manage to cooperate and act wisely and intelligently enough to survive, which already looks like a serious threat to our survival with the sun.

hoosier_banana's avatar

Without the Sun the Carbon Cycle would stop (no new o2). The Water Cycle would also stop, the extreme cold would drop feet of snow and ice from the atmosphere, the oceans would freeze. But if we had someplace to live underground, and could produce our own Oxygen, and had vehicles(with unlimited energy) to safely go topside to collect food and supplies, there would be a chance to hold out for quite a while. But I doubt that humans would survive long enough for the Earth to find a new Sun and link up perfectly, and if they did it would probably kill them from the millions of generations in the dark.

I would freeze myself as soon as possible.

boffin's avatar

See ya…
Adios

fireside's avatar

We were all wrong!
The sun already disappeared last December and we’re all still here and doing fine!!!

augustlan's avatar

I’m with hoosier…even if we survived initially, if all the plants die, no oxygen. Kaput!

Oakland's avatar

Bye, bye for the earth….

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