THE BLOG
11/10/2014 07:16 am ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

Scarily Plausible Doomsday Scenarios For Dystopian Fans

The following is an excerpt from Are You Sh*tting Me?: 1,004 Facts That Will Scare the Crap Out of You:

There's no nice way to say it: we're screwed. One way or another, we'll all be obliterated someday, and that day is sooner than you think. You know that TV show called "1000 Ways to Die"? That's how I felt when I was researching this chapter. We are screwed ten times over and ten more times after that. If a supervolcano doesn't get us, an asteroid will. If the asteroid doesn't get us, a comet will. If a comet doesn't wipe us out, it will be a global pandemic or a gamma-ray burst or a black hole or a nuclear holocaust, or even our own sun.

The good news is that whatever happens will probably be quick. That, and we won't have to hear about Miley Cyrus anymore.

  • Experts say that an eruption of a supervolcano, such as the one that lies beneath Yellowstone National Park, could occur soon and would be catastrophic to our planet.
  • Over the past decade, Yellowstone's volcanic crater has risen ten inches. Scientists believe that molten rock is accumulating underneath.
  • In the past two million years, the Yellowstone volcano has erupted three times, each one a thousand times more powerful than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington.
  • A volcanic eruption near Yellowstone two million years ago was twenty-four hundred times more powerful than the Mount Saint Helens blast, emitting six hundred cubic tons of dust and ash into the atmosphere.
  • Since that ancient blast, massive eruptions have taken place at Yellowstone about every 600,000 years, with the last one occurring 640,000 years ago. In other words, get ready.
  • Such an eruption today would equal the force of a thousand Hiroshima-strength atomic bombs exploding every second.
  • Fallout from a supervolcano could also put enough sunlight-blocking dust in the air to cause a deep plunge in temperatures on the earth's surface.
  • Giant volcanic eruptions have contributed to mass extinctions, including the one that helped to kill off the dinosaurs around sixty-five million years ago.
  • Scientists have also shown that a Siberian volcano may have precipitated the largest extinction on record about 250 million years ago, as it belched out enough sulfur, carbon dioxide, and ash to alter the climate and collapse the food chain.
  • Asteroids are the extraterrestrial objects most likely to strike Earth. An asteroid at least 106 miles wide that crashed into what is now Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is believed to have been partly responsible for the dinosaurs' extinction.
  • NASA predicts that an asteroid larger than fifty-five yards wide will strike the earth roughly every hundred years, potentially leading to floods and destruction of cities and farms.
  • An asteroid collision with Earth would also create firestorms, acid rain that would kill crops, and debris that would shield the planet from sunlight, according to NASA's Near-Earth Object Program.
  • A three-hundred-yard-wide asteroid called 99942 Apophis will pass within the orbits of earth satellites in 2029 and could strike our planet.
  • Comets, moving through space at almost a hundred thousand miles per hour can be propelled even faster by the gravitational pull from Earth. The resulting force from a comet collision with Earth could wipe out the human race.
  • Since comets are essentially dark, dirty snowballs, finding them in the outer reaches of the solar system can be difficult.
  • Among the most powerful explosions in the universe, supernovas can match the power of a few octillion nuclear warheads. If you're wondering how many an octillion is, it's roughly 800 shitloads.
  • Though most supernovas occur too far away from Earth to do any real damage, a supernova's radiation could theoretically destroy the ozone in the atmosphere, increasing the amount of ultraviolet (UV) light that gets through to catastrophic levels.
  • A supernova's radiation could also cause a UV flash, which would damage the ozone, increase skin cancer rates, and kill off mass amounts of bacteria, essentially creating another ice age.
  • When large stars die and collapse, powerful beams of energy burst from both poles, shooting gamma rays and charged particles that for a few seconds outshine the rest of the stars in the universe combined.
  • The most powerful explosions known in the universe are gamma-ray bursts. A fiery pinwheel in space named WR 104 about eight thousand light-years away from Earth could fire a gamma-ray burst in our direction, potentially causing mass extinctions.
  • Scientists predict that in about a billion years, the sun will shine ten percent brighter, turning our planet into an oven. The earth's temperature will increase to well over 200ºF, boiling off our oceans and collapsing our climate.
  • Solar flares, which are jets of plasma shooting out of the sun, can wreak havoc on today's vast interconnected power grid and cause massive outages, radio blackouts, satellite malfunctions, telecommunication-system meltdowns, and more.
  • The massive gravitational pull of Jupiter, our largest planet, could throw another planet in our solar system far enough off course to create a cosmic chain reaction that would result in a collision between Mercury and Earth and destroy us.
  • There is growing evidence to suggest that wandering black holes exist in our own galaxy, The holes are difficult to spot and carry more than enough energy to destroy Earth.
  • One downside of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is the possibility of its creating mini black holes, which could essentially dice the planet into pieces. English astrophysicist Martin Rees said there is a one in fifty million chance that it will happen.
  • With a quarter of Earth's mammals facing extinction and 90 percent of our large fish already gone, our planet's shrinking biodiversity could spell our doom. At current rates of extinction, half of our animal species will be gone within a hundred years.
  • According to a warning issued at the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity, so dependent are humans on the interconnected services of plants and animals that unless this loss of biodiversity is halted, humans will likely join this list of extinctions.
  • Soon it could be possible to design babies whose DNA has been rewritten to give them greater mental and physical abilities. A breed of their own, they'd only be able to mate with others of their kind--like hipsters, but without the ironic hats.
  • Icy structures called clathrates at the bottom of the world's oceans contain mass quantities of naturally occurring gases, including methane. The warmer the oceans become, the more the clathrates will swell and belch their methane stores to the water's surface. The release of these greenhouses gases into the atmosphere will trigger more global warming and the release of yet more of the clathrates' gasses.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a third of what we eat comes from plants that are pollinated by bees. Since 2006, honeybees have been dying off by the millions and experts don't know why. Without honeybees to help propagate our crops, there will be a critical shortage to global food supplies.
  • The 1918 influenza pandemic killed 50 to 80 million people. Today, an equivalent globally disruptive pandemic would have a death toll of 210 million.
  • In 2011, the scientific community was outraged that researchers engineered a mutant version of the bird flu H5N1 that was transmissible in ferrets and transmitted via the air. The results sparked fears that engineered deadly diseases could be accidentally or intentionally released, leading to a global pandemic.
  • When carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rose significantly million of years ago, our oceans became acidic, setting off a wave of extinction. Today, carbon dioxide levels are again soaring--but this time, they're rising ten times faster than before.
  • Damage from ocean acidification could be most visible in coral reefs, which would not only result in a loss of habitat for an estimated 25 percent of marine life but also expose many coastal cities to greater storm and wave damage.
  • Moore's Law is the observation that computer chips get twice as powerful every two years, leading to the implication that computer intelligence will eventually be greater than human intelligence. What we don't know is what the artificial superintelligence of the future will choose to do with its gifts.
  • With artificial brains, one expert says, we could "get something that's very intelligent but has motivations that are completely nonhuman. [The computer] might not care about anything that we care about, but since it's smarter, it's going to get what it wants."
  • The earth's magnetic field decreases to almost nothing every few hundred thousand years, then, about a century later, reappears with the north and south poles reversed. The last switch was more than 700,000 years ago, so we are overdue.
  • Without magnetic protection, more particle storms, cosmic rays from the sun, and energetic subatomic particles from deep space would strike earth's atmosphere, eroding the already beleaguered ozone layer and disrupting everything from power grids to gas pipelines to communications satellites.
  • According to a 2010 Ploughshares Fund report, twenty-two thousand active nuclear warheads are scattered around the globe, more than enough to destroy the world. And that number doesn't include smaller weapons that are more susceptible to theft.
  • In 1983, a secret satellite-monitoring facility near Moscow received a warning that five nuclear missiles were launched from the United States. Fortunately, the facility's officer questioned the reliability of new equipment, choosing to wait before setting off the alarm. The officer's judgment was sound--the alarm was false--and he likely saved the world from a nuclear war.
  • Since the end of the cold war, nuclear worries have subsided. However, the possession of nuclear weapons by terrorist groups and rogue states remains a worldwide concern.
  • Physics Today published a study in 2008 that suggests "a regional war involving as few as a hundred bombs could cause a nuclear winter, resulting in the lowest temperatures in a thousand years, while an exchange involving thousands of weapons would... 'likely eliminate the majority of the human population.'"
  • Most scientists think it won't be one doomsday event that wipes us out, but rather a snowball effect: smaller events degrading life gradually until it eventually becomes unsustainable.