Sunday, May 17, 2009

Discovery Channel: "Apocalypse How"

On Sunday, May 16, the Discovery Channel re-aired its two part series “Apocalypse How” (two hours total), link here. The voice of the narrator is the same as in the History Channel Mega-Disasters series.

The first episode started out by enumerating four major ways that civilization could go suddenly. The first is a supervolcano, with Yellowstone the most notorious danger, but there are six others around the world, including Mono Lake in California, and Indonesia.

Check out the US Geological Survey “Core cast” “Is Something Brewing Within Yellowstone?”, link. You can follow links here to monitor the recent earthquakes which could forecast a catastrophic eruption. The Discovery film did not mention that earthquakes have increased recently in early 2009 (since the film dates to mid 2008), but a recent History Channel “How the Earth Was Made” does.

The second immediate end to mankind would be manmade nuclear war, which could start out with Pakistan and its unstable political situation. The well known nuclear winter follows the same process as a volcanic winter. The third scenario would be a pandemic, possibly manmade, that kills almost everyone. A fourth end-of-days would come from an alien attack, which scientists take more seriously than you would think. We might be treated by aliens the way we treat an ant hill (I question that). A fifth apocalypse would be a direct asteroid hit. Apophis, which could hit in 2020 or even more likely 2036 could take out a major city, but an asteroid a few miles across would wipe out almost all higher life forms. The show didn’t mention a similar risk from comets.

The second our starts out with slower threats, mostly manmade. The most notorious is global warming, the range of estimates range up to 6 degrees Centigrade. If all the earth’s ice melts, seal levels would rise 200 feet, wiping out much of the earth’s coastal cities, and putting us all under a permanent Katrina.

The next risk could be something like Transformers, the movie. That is, our robots could get smarter than us and attack us. More insidious would be nanotechnology. The show speculated that an asymmetric terrorist could manufacture a nanobot that becomes infectious and converts all of the earth’s matter into gray goo in a matter of hours (sort of like the way prions cause brain disease). (Nanotechnology was the inspiration for the show “Jake 2.0”).

The show then covered the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research, and the Hadron Collider (website)) experiments underneath Switzerland. Scientists pooh-pooh the idea that a mini black hole created by the experiment would destroy earth. But maybe the experiment could produce a strange matter, and by “prion-like” infection the whole earth and maybe universe turns into a strangelet. Here is a story by Lewis Page in a British paper about a lawsuit to stop CERN to stop “hurling Earth into a parallel universe”.

The show returned to some of the unpreventable other forms of apocalypse. A gamma ray burst from a supernova even several thousand light years away could destroy us. The film also simulates what would happen if a rogue black hole approached earth.

The film also covers the wobble in the Earth’s orbit, which 80% the time favors an ice age. We live during a time of the fortunate 20%.

At the end, the film covers the possibility of a super solar flare, which would be like an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and possibly wipe out all electronics, or at least all satellite operations. (The superflare scenario of the Summit Entertainment film "Knowing", combined with prescient alien visits and rescues, is not mentioned.) In 5 billion years, the Sun will become a Red Giant and heat will destroy the Earth, so mankind must find a new home by then or mankind will expire. Get ready to terraform Mars, maybe even Titan or Triton.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, a Columbia astronomer, often appears in this film, as does John Rennie, a chief editor of Scientific American. The film seems to have the same narrator as the History Channel Mega-Disasters series, Roger Tilling, and has the same expository style.

A similar film was ABC's "Last Days on Earth" in 2006, about which ABC has an article here. That film has been re-aired on the History Channel several times.

Watch out for The Purification! What happens to all of us on Dec. 21, 2012?

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