How are you enjoying the Holocene? It’s the warm, interglacial period we’re currently experiencing. It’s been going for about ten thousand years, or the totality of human civilization plus a bit. I like it. Crops are growing well, supporting huge cities. An urban population leads to learning, professions and all the technology we have today. Like scissors.
Don’t get too attached to all that, though. Interglacial periods don’t always last very long. One only lasted eight thousand years. Soon enough we’ll all be back in the fridge. And no, it doesn’t change gradually. It can change fast, in just a few years. So stay on your toes.
Imagine that civilization will survive, against the odds, another thirteen thousand years. By that time the Earth’s tilt will reverse, resulting in more extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere. On the bright side, one little bit of that well-loved hemisphere will be safer than now – Chernobyl. Hot tip: buy up land now while it’s cheap then play the waiting game.
And say our descendants last a good hundred thousand years. Well done. They will probably have had to survive a major, unprecedented catastrophe by that time, either a super-volcano or a massive asteroid. Maybe both at the same time and the asteroid will neatly plug the volcano. Ahead to five hundred thousand years, the Earth will probably have been hit by a really, really big asteroid. At that time our luck may have finally run out.
If it hasn’t, ten million years ahead might pose new challenges. T Pyxidis will turn supernova and irradiate the earth. Don’t forget to bring the washing in. At fifty million years Australia will crash into Indonesia, though by that time both countries will surely have developed the technology to drag the two countries further apart. After sixty million years the Earth’s orbit will become disordered, causing climatic chaos. You brought that washing in, didn’t you?
After six hundred million years, most photosynthesis will be impossible due to changes in the sun. That could be a problem. After eight hundred million years, all photosynthesis will be impossible. It will be a good time to be a single-celled organism because all the other types will be dead. But don’t get too chirpy, you little buggers. After two billion, eight hundred million years you lot will be dead, too. Try surviving after an expanding sun increases the temperature to 147 degrees Celsius.
In about five billion years the sun will have expanded into a red giant, probably swallowing the Earth with the proximity of its gravitational field. The Mona Lisa and surviving copies of Mad Magazine will have already been moved to Pluto for safekeeping.
After that, depending on who you ask, the Universe itself might either end after twenty billion years due to over-expansion, or after quintillions of years with the gradual end of star formation. Doesn’t bother me much either way.
Puts your credit card bill into perspective, doesn’t it?
See the original BBC infographic here.