There are any number of ways the world could end. Aliens could enslave the human race and scrap our planet for resources, a meteor could sucker-punch the Earth, or that Top Gun sequel could actually get made.
That said, there are several popular doomsday scenarios that movies and the Internet love to toss about like unsolicited mix tapes in front of a 7-Eleven, despite the fact that, according to science, they could never possibly happen. We're talking about ...
#6. "Scientists Will Make A Black Hole And Suck Up The Earth!"
If Internet conspiracy theorists are to be believed, the Large Hadron Collider represents a greater threat to the planet than a kickball team of Bond and Batman villains. Through their twisted godless experiments, CERN is going to accidentally unleash either a planet-eating black hole or a dimension-hopping ancient monster.
Unless you actually think they built a mechanical Eye Of Sauron by accident.
Fortunately for us, actual scientists with degrees from places other than YouTube bothered to look into it, and they have found these claims to be utter bullshit.
If CERN managed to conjure up enough science-magic to create a black hole, it'd have a lifespan barely measurable in nanoseconds. Thanks to a little-known thing called Hawking radiation, black holes emit a type of radiation that causes them to lose mass and power as time goes on, an effect that worsens the smaller they get. In effect, the black hole would evaporate shortly after being born.
That is, of course, if the sheer act of being birthed didn't cause it to be ejected into space at the speed of light. Which it would ... unless it was stopped through a billion-to-one-chance collision with another particle.
So ... let's assume that everything we've just said doesn't happen, and we're left with a black hole threatening to swallow the Earth like the house at the end of Poltergeist. We'd be screwed, right? Well, not exactly. Any black hole caused by CERN would be miniature (as in nano-sized), meaning it would have no significant pull or mass.
In fact, in a worst-case scenario, it would take billions of years to grow to a point where it would start even slightly bothering us. It's questionable whether or not the human race would even be around to see this, let alone any of us.
As for the monster ... you know, if you're the type of person who needs hard research to explain why a bunch of scientists in an experimental lab aren't going to conjure a shambling monster, we don't want to take the magic out of the world for you.
#5. "The North And South Poles Are Switching! We're All Dead!"
As we've previously demonstrated, the world is a wondrous enigma that wouldn't hesitate to kill us all in a single second should the mood strike it. Case in point: the threat posed by geomagnetic reversal, wherein the planet may randomly decide "fuck this noise" and switch the North and South Poles around, leaving us confused, disorientated, and either cooked by space radiation or buried by ageological shitstorm of events previously seen only in films by Roland Emmerich.
And quickly forgotten by everybody who isn't Roland Emmerich.
Except, history begs to differ. Thanks to the geological record of the planet, we can see that geomagnetic reversals aren't a doomsday scenario: They've happened with such regularity throughout history that they're actually the norm, not the exception. All evidence suggests that they occur every few hundred thousand years, and we're well overdue for another, considering the last reversal occurred 800,000 years ago.
However, it's a massive oversimplification to say that we're going to wake up one day and find ourselves buried by earthquakes, tidal waves, and broken compasses. The truth is that the poles have been shifting since before records began: The magnetic North Pole has shifted by several hundred miles since the 19th century, and according to estimates it's now shifting faster than ever, up from a distance of 10 miles per year in the early 20th century to nearly 40 miles per year nowadays. That's right -- the North Pole is moving at the speed of a luxury sedan.
How Santa keeps Christmas going with all those elves drowning every year is beyond us.
"But what would happen if a reversal caused the magnetic field to collapse?" you ask stupidly, forming the idiot words with your stupid face. The answer: not much, really. As we've mentioned, these reversals have happened countless times before, and the planet seems remarkably undestroyed.
Also, the magnetic field isn't just something that can be switched off or left open like a garage door. Like any naturally occurring form of energy, it can be weakened or strengthened but could never completely disappear any more than magnetism itself can.
Besides which, the planet's atmosphere does a better job of catching killer interstellar bullshit than the magnetic field ever could, so even if the magnetic field did suddenly decide to screw off to Tahiti or wherever, we'd probably still be relatively uncooked by space heat.
The Day After Tomorrow: Normal And Boring, Just Like Today And Tomorrow
#4. "The Sun Is Going To Cook Us With Solar Flares!"
Made famous by that one movie where Nicolas Cage had ridiculous hair and aliens used math to kidnap children, solar flares are essentially high-energy clouds of heat, radiation, and nasty space particles that the sun will one day unleash upon us like the hottest, most room-clearing fart in history, thus ending all life on Earth.
However, if you've read this far, you probably already guessed that this isn't going to happen. That's not to say that solar flares don't exist (they totally do) -- it's just that we're probably not going to get killed by one.
Even Nicolas Cage's scripts are overacting now.
First off, just like geomagnetic reversal, solar flares have been happening for as long as there's been a planet full of people to get freaked out+ by them. They happen roughly every 11 years -- so far, we haven't been roasted into oblivion, because the distance between us and the sun is still too great for the heat blast to travel.
Being a tiny, insignificant nano-speck of flesh on a barely visible
micropebble in the middle of actual nowhere just saved your life.
That said, they can still fuck shit right up. The upper atmosphere will be heavily disrupted by the radiation and particles, inhibiting satellite communications, while super-strong solar flares are capable of knocking out entire power grids.
Thankfully, there are precautions that can be taken to protect these as much as possible (it helps that we're able to predict when solar flares will occur). So some areas may go dark, but the human race won't go extinct, despite what Nic Cage and his Mystery Hair would have us believe.
#3. "Antimatter Bombs Are Going To Destroy The World!"
You might remember antimatter as that red goo that destroyed Spock's planet in the Star Trek remake. But antimatter isn't just a far-off science-fiction concern. According to esteemed futurists like Dan Brown, pretty soon the go-to method of annihilation isn't going to be nuclear or biological or chemical -- it's going to be an antimatter bomb that erases whatever part of the world failed to pay your ransom demand on time.
They shall usher in the Age Of Antiplot.
Unfortunately for Dan Brown (and fortunately for the rest of us), antimatter is literally impossible to weaponize. First of all, antimatter isn't some mythical element of explosions. It exists in quite normal places ranging from thunderstorms to scientific laboratories to CERN (man, CERN is showing up so much that we're starting to think that /r/conspiracy might be on to something).
That's an important fact, because the general premise of the antimatter apocalypse, as depicted in movies, is that antimatter explodes when it comes into contact with actual matter. If that were the case in real life, shit would be exploding everywhere, all of the time.
If you want hard, accurate, respectable science, you need to pick up a book and read.
Secondly, even if antimatter was pure explodium, it'd be superfuckingdifficult to fashion a weapon from it, both in terms of cost and practicality. According to CERN, the net result of several decades of work in this field has yielded only approximately about 10 billionths of a gram of antimatter.
For the sake of comparison, the antimatter bomb in Angels & Demons is composed of a quarter of a gram. And the total cost of obtaining enough antimatter to build a bomb? The closest estimate, again from CERN (who obviously looked into this as an option), places the figure at "a million billion dollars" ... and it would take billions of years to formulate.
Basically, the way to destroy the Earth with an antimatter bomb is to just sit and wait the geochronological eons it would take you to harvest enough antimatter to make a bomb. The Earth will just kind of end on its own.
#2. "Nuclear Winter Will Freeze The Planet!
It's thought that after a nuclear exchange, the fires produced by the bombs will throw up enough dust and soot and detritus to block out the sun and cause whatever poor souls managed to survive the initial cataclysmic blast to freeze to death in nuclear winter. It's an idea that was originally suggested in a paper co-authored by Father Science himself, Carl Sagan, which makes it all the more awkward for us to point out that it's flat-out wrong.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is coming to kick our asses now, isn't he?
While we haven't yet experienced a nuclear war, we've experienced a ton of events that have kicked up all manner of smoke and debris into the atmosphere and left you alive enough to read these words. Volcanoes, oil-well fires, two nuclear attacks, and countless nuclear tests have all tested the nuclear winter hypothesis, and so far none of us are living in a fucking ice train eating cockroaches with Chris Evans.
Furthermore, the successful creation of a "nuclear winter" depends on a range of variables lining up exactly right. For instance, the bomb would have to be of a sufficient megatonnage, and it would need to be detonated in a busy area with the right geography and the right weather to generate the necessary fire and debris.
So ... what would happen if all of these events occurred? Well, it would be pretty fucking bad in the way nuclear weapons are wont to be, but not much in the way of freezing. According to one researcher in this field, the ensuing climate wouldn't be so much a "nuclear winter" as a "nuclear autumn," which sounds oddly peaceful.
Lastly, there's the fact that much of the research into the possibility of nuclear winter was modeled in the 1980s, an era where world leaders thought that there was a correlation between junk size and bomb-megatonnage.
Nowadays, however, the yields of nuclear weapons are much, much smaller, and we're also not currently locked in a decades-long game of face-pissing with another nuclear power. But who can really say what the future holds? We'll have to check with Nicolas Cage and his secret disaster math to be entirely sure.
#1. "Swarms Of Nanomachines Will Turn Us Into Soup!"
Human beings are bizarrely distrustful of machines, despite the fact that we're obsessed with creating more of them so that we don't have to do anything for ourselves. For instance, several groups of people are concerned about the threat posed by so called "grey goo," flying armies of nanomachine screated with the ability to replicate themselves. The nanomachines would inevitably get out of control and disassemble every atom on this planet into more nanomachines, all improbably voiced by James Spader.
The problem is, such an event would require a drastic rewriting of every known law of physics. Firstly, there's the issue of power. While our most esteemed scholars have warned about the dangers of having too much power, an army of flying robo-termites would have the opposite problem. Due to their size, the nanomachines would need to be solar powered and have the hitherto-unknown ability to use every volt of energy without waste. They would barely have the power to take off without immediately crashing, let alone cover the globe in a swarm of clones.
Additionally, trying to build nanomachines from organic matter (e.g., us) is an impossible job. Whereas it would be easy to build nanomachines from metals and inorganic materials (where their atomic composition is uniform), organics are disorganized, messy, un-metallic piles of garbage and bone.
So, while a nanobot replicating itself from inorganic material would be like breaking down a LEGO pirate ship and using the pieces to build a LEGO car, replicating itself from organic material would be like breaking down a LEGO house and using the pieces to build an elephant. Like, an actual elephant.
However, let's give this idea some credit (after all, Michael Crichton wouldn't write a book full of flimsily researched pseudoscience) and say that a supervillain has overcome these problems. A nanobot army would still be defeated by something called drag, which is the force exerted on an object as it travels through a fluid (like air) that slows it down.
The top movement speed of any object is proportional to its size, so air drag would reduce the flying speed of these microscopic death machines to speeds matched only by glacial shift. The world wouldn't end with either a bang or whimper, just the asthmatic cyber-cough of a grain of sand slowly looming down on us before it dies of power failure.