Page 1

STRANGELETS During the construction of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in 2003, physicists suggested that it could create a ‘strangelet’; a hypothetical microscopic lump of ‘strange matter’ containing almost equal numbers of particles called up, down and strange quarks. This Midas-material converts everything it touches into hyperdense strange matter, which will rapidly shrink the planet until it’s about a 100 meters wide. However, strangelets were never formed. But what about the more powerful LHC that is being built today? Again, we have nothing to fear. Models indicate that strangelets are only stable or long-lived at low temperatures. Since the LHC’s proton beams produce ‘hotter’ events than the RHIC, it is again extremely unlikely that strangelets will be formed. 16


MEGATSNUNAMI A megatsunami is exactly what you think it is: an extremely big tsunami. Experts say that a massive landslide on a volcanic island will most likely be the future cause of a megatsunami. The size and power of a wave generated by such means could produce devastating effects, travelling across oceans and inundating up to 25 kilometres inland from the coast. Fortunately, the geological record suggests that megatsunamis are rare: the most recent one, which is known to have had a widespread impact which reshaped an entire coastline, occurred approximately 4,000 years ago on RĂŠunion island, to the east of Madagascar.



SOLAR STORMS A solar flare occurs when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released. Solar activity works on an 11 year-cycle, with solar flares and eruptions occurring hundreds of times throughout the cycle. Most of them are harmless to us. However, occasionally the sun sends highly magnetized atomic particles (plasma) towards the Earth. The resulting solar storm could cause a geomagnetic storm, knocking out electricity grids around the world for hours, days, or even months, sending our high-tech society back to the 18th century. No preservation of food, no heating and no Angry Birds.


NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST The possibility of nuclear warfare has haunted humanity for more than 60 years now. And it still isn’t as far-fetched as one might think. Nine countries are believed to possess weapons of mass destruction, including some ‘unstable’ regimes, such as Pakistan and North Korea. Furthermore, nuclear weapons are not what they used to be. The Hiroshima bomb, that basically incinerated the whole city, exploded with a force of about 13,000 tons of TNT. A modern thermonuclear weapon is almost a 1,000 times as powerful, meaning that in comparison, it would kill 66 million people at once. To get a better the idea of what this means: that’s almost the entire population of France. 19

GREY GOO Almost every new technology evokes some kind of end-of-the-world scenario. In case of nanotechnology, ‘grey goo,’ means trouble. How? In the future, we will use nanobots, which are the size of molecules, to build things. They will do this by collecting raw material from the natural world (atoms, molecules) and convert it into the building blocks of the desired product. In order to do so, the nanobots would have to reproduce themselves -also using raw material from the natural world- in massive numbers. Grey goo is what would happen if one of the nanobots went crazy and never stopped replicating itself. According to some calculations, it would then take the nanobots only two days to replicate themselves to that extent that they would fill up the entire Earth.


GAMMA-RAY BURSTS Gamma-ray bursts are high-energy beams of radiation that shoot out from the magnetic poles of a star during a supernova explosion. Scientists have speculated that in the past, mass extinctions on Earth may have been caused by GRBs, and if a GRB happened today it could easily wipe humanity from the planet. However, the chances we will experience one are quite limited. A 2009 study shows that a significant gamma-ray burst is likely to go off within range of Earth every billion years or so, provided that a stream of radiation would be lined up just right to affect the planet. To quote one of the study’s authors: “there’s a similar chance I might find a polar bear in my closet in Bowie, Maryland.” 21

COSMIC COLLISIONS We know it happened once before, so it could probably happen again: mass extinction as a result of a collision with a comet or asteroid. Many options have been proposed: Planet X (a hypothetical planet); Nibiru (another hypothetical planet) ; and Elenin (a comet). The first two do not exist. Elenin does, but will stay at a distance of 36 million kilometres. Nothing to worry about. However, a few Russian scientists are warning that asteroid Apophis will hit a gravitational ‘keyhole’ that will pull it onto a collision course and hit our planet on April 13, 2036. But rest assured, according to NASA, the chance this will happen is one in 250,000.


ALIEN INVASION Last year, cosmologist Stephen Hawking warned us not to make contact with civilizations outside our world. “If aliens visit us,” Hawking said, “the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Although Hawking’s theory is not supported by most of his colleagues, many physicists do seriously consider the possibility of extra terrestrial life. The invasion scenario is less plausible, however. If aliens would be interested in our natural resources, why didn’t they exploit them already? If they do invade, physicist Michio Kaku says it would be a “Bambi vs. Godzilla battle.” “Hollywood always shows Aliens who are about a hundred years more advanced than we are. In reality, it would be more plausible that they would be millions or billions of years more advanced, In that case, we couldn’t even conceive of their technology.”



SUPERVOLCANOES There is no strict definition of a supervolcano, but they are larger and much more powerful than the eruptions that we know from recorded history. A supervolcano spits out more than a thousand cubic kilometers of material such as ash, rocks and magma, which can effect the atmosphere for decades. When sunlight gets blocked for an extended period of time, a ‘nuclear winter’ sets in. Results can include drought, famine, and even the occurrence of a mini Ice Age. And it gets worse: some super volcanoes are basically ready to burst at any moment. The one underneath America’s Yellowstone park, for example, is way overdue: scientists believe it erupts once every 600.000 years. Last time it erupted was 640.000 years ago.

GLOBAL PANDEMIC With viruses such as influenza mutating all the time, it is not unlikely that a new pandemic will appear within the next couple of decades. Last century there were three pandemics. The worst one, the 1918-20 Spanish flu, killed around 40 million peoplemore than the first world war. There is no regular cycle governing pandemics, but the long gap since the last one is making experts jumpy. And since the last epidemic in 1968, air travel has become more common, making it possible for a pandemic virus to spread around the globe more quickly. The global economy would shut down, international vaccine supplies and health-care systems would be overwhelmed, and panic would reign.






HELLAS REBORN Although Greece may be at the outskirts of Europe’s geographical border, it’s at the very heart of its cultural identity. In this short article I want to focus attention on the fascinating historical and problematic background of modern Greece, one which resonates strongly in the debate concerning the Greek debt crisis. This article is not about good or bad, right or wrong. My main point is that the Greek attitude towards institutions like the EU, IMF and the World Bank, could be better under26

stood by paying attention to the complex, historical relationship between Europe and Greece. Lazy, corrupt and uncivil Modern Greece is a young country with a very old soul. Its formation was part of a wide range of new nation-states that established themselves during the first decades of the 19th century. Before becoming a proper state, the Greek speaking population was part of the Ottoman empire for centuries, due the Great Schism in the 11th century. As part

10 roads to human extinction  

It's the end of the world as know it it. Or is it? Let's explore some options.

10 roads to human extinction  

It's the end of the world as know it it. Or is it? Let's explore some options.