10. The End of the World

The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll.

The Bible: Isaiah 13:10; 34:4

No-one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the Earth.

The Bible: Revelation 14:3 The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the Earth and everything in it will be laid bare.... That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.

The Bible: 2 Peter 3:10

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig-tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

The Bible: Revelation 6:12

When the trumpet sounds in a single blast; when earth with all its mountains is raised high and with one mighty crashed is flattened into dust…the sky will be rent asunder.

The Koran: The Ladders 18

They question you about the Hour of Doom. ‘When will it come?’ they ask. But how are you to know. Only your Lord knows when it will come?

The Koran: The Soul-snatchers 45

One of the questions that has preoccupied humanity form the earliest times is how things will end. It is all tied up with our built in desire to ask, “Where did we come from? Where are we going?” and “Where will it all end?” Perhaps we have an inbuilt need to worry about something or maybe we are just being naturally cautious and following our survival instincts.

When I was at primary school, I can remember that we sat there worrying about the possible threat of an approaching ice age. Were the winters getting worse? Would we get one during our lifetime?

The geological records show that around six or seven major ice ages have occurred, most of them lasting from around ten to eighty million years and each one separated from the next on average by around one hundred million years with a warm period as we have at the moment. In between, there is also evidence of some minor ice ages as well. However, the one that was in existence around 600 million years ago involved the whole Earth being totally encased in ice. If such an event was to take place today, there would not be much future for the human race and other advanced life forms on the Earth. The causes of the ice ages may be one or many combined, such as the variations in the tilt of the axis and the slight change in the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. Fortunately, the last ice age only ended around one and a half million years ago. One would imagine that we have quite a long time to go before the next one. Of course, you never know. There is some strong scientific evidence emerging that the Gulf Stream, which modifies the climate of North Western Europe, may be slowing down. This would reduce the temperature of that region quite markedly. We do know for certain, that our preoccupation with a destruction by an ice age has been replaced with other considerations.

At secondary school the next question that we were worried about was, “Were we all going to be destroyed by a global nuclear war, the aftermath of which would destroy all life on the Earth?” Fortunately, the end of the cold war between America and Russia enabled this worry to fade into the background.

It would appear that any current threat to life on the Earth may not come from within the Earth itself, but from outer space. By current threat, I mean one that could happen tomorrow, next week or next year. Gamma Ray Bursts were discovered in the 1960’s. These are extremely violent bursts of energy seen to originate in very distant regions of the Universe way beyond our own galaxy. We can only speculate on the exact cause of such violent out bursts of energy. These can range from giant stellar collisions and explosions to coalescing black holes or spinning black holes just happening to briefly fire a jet of energy in our direction. We do know that if such an event occurred in our own galaxy, it would be sufficient to wipe out all life on the Earth and sterilise it. Still, we consider the odds of this happening to be extremely low.

The other current threat that we are preoccupied with at present, is the threat of meteor impact. We now know from science that around eighty per cent of the species on the Earth were wiped out around sixty-five million years ago including the dinosaurs, which up until then had been one of the most successful life forms in the history of the Earth. The discovery of a large impact crater off the east coast of Mexico and to the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, where an enormous meteor must have crashed into the sea, has reinforced these ideas. We believe that this meteor, as it thundered to earth, is responsible for this event. Estimations of impact date are set at around sixty-five million years ago, when the dinosaurs died out.

Following the principle that anything that can happen once, can happen again, leads us to the inevitable conclusion that it is not a matter of if this might happen, but when will it happen? Fortunately for the Earth, the frequency of meteoritic impact does decrease with time. During the early stages of solar system formation, this region of space was a very violent place. We can see this from the impact craters on the moon and the planet Mercury. The solar system would have been full of giant meteors all circling the sun on random orbits from circular too highly elliptical. Many of the early ones, would have fallen into the sun. Mercury would have suffered many impacts being in the direct line of fire. The giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn would have done a good job like giant vacuum cleaners sucking many of them up in their gravitational field. Most of the ones that are left are on stable orbits around the sun. Others do cross the Earth’s orbit but are not on collision courses. It is ironic however, that the planet Jupiter which may have done us a favour in sweeping up many of the early meteors, may in the end be responsible for disturbing the orbit of a meteor and setting it on a collision course with the Earth. Yet, since we are now a fairly advanced civilisation, it does not necessarily mean that we have to sit back and take the consequences. A lot of research is under way on observing these well in advance of any possible collision. The idea being, that if we caught it early enough, we would be able to push it or tow it with sufficient force to change its trajectory. By catching it early the small change would result in a large change on Earth approach, causing it to miss the Earth completely.

What about the real end of the world? What about the end that certainly will happen? It is surely this, to which our ancient grand masters were referring, which we may have confused with the end of the age.

Original ideas were, that the sun produced its heat by chemical reactions such as burning coal. With some A level physics, it is possible to work out the mass of the sun. We do this by using calculations of the effect of the gravitational force on the Earth and other planets. It is similar to working out the tension in a string by knowing the mass on the end of it as we swing it round in a circle and knowing the speed and radius of revolution. Instead of the tension, we are finding the gravitational force provided by the sun on a smaller object going round it. For example, let us take the Earth. We know the mass of the Earth, although, this is rather irrelevant as it cancels out in the calculation. We know how far away the Earth is from the sun and we know how long it takes to complete one orbit. From this we can work out the mass of the sun.

It is also possible to work out the power output of the sun knowing its surface temperature from its colour. It works the same as a ring on an electric cooker. A glow of red has a temperature of around 3000 degrees. If it is hotter, it will glow orange and then from yellow to white as we go from below 6000 degrees like the sun to over 6000 degrees. Hotter still it will glow green and finally blue, as are the hottest stars in the Universe. Obviously, you cannot see the full range of colours with the ring on your cooker, as it would melt and vaporise to a gas, as it got hotter. The stars of course are already made of gas, so they can reach the highest temperatures possible. We can find the sun’s surface area from its radius or diameter. Armed with these two facts an A level physics calculation provides the total power output of the sun.

It soon became clear, knowing the mass of the sun and its energy output, that the energy of the sun would have been spent long ago if chemical reactions were responsible for the energy production as in ordinary burning. Clearly, something was wrong. The advent of nuclear physics provided the answer. Stars were made of hydrogen, the lightest and simplest element in the Universe. They produced their energy because the high temperatures at the core were sufficient to be able to cause the fusion of hydrogen, the simplest element with one proton in its nucleus, to make helium the next simplest element with two protons and two neutrons in the nucleus. When this happens they release a vast amount of energy. This is because the mass of the helium atom produced is less than the mass of the hydrogen atoms that went up to make it. This mass is converted into energy which can be calculated using Einstein’s equation E=mc2. Here the number of joules of energy produced is found by multiplying the mass difference in kilograms by the speed of light (in metres per second) squared. Now, the speed of light squared is a colossal number. This shows that even a very small conversion of mass into energy results in an enormous amount of energy production. We understand the processes that take place in the sun reasonably well, but not fully. We know that the phenomenal energy pushing outwards from the centre is responsible for supporting the star against its own gravitational collapse. This balancing act keeps the star in a stable condition for billions of years. Large stars are very hot and convert their hydrogen at such a fast rate that the star does not have a very long lifetime. Conversely, smaller stars like the sun, which are the norm in the Universe, convert their hydrogen at a more sedate rate. A star like the sun should have a stable lifetime of around 9 billion years and we are about half way through this period.

Therefore, we know that in four to five billion years time that the sun will run out of hydrogen at its core. Then the core will collapse and then get even hotter. The outer layers will spread and it will swell to form a red giant. Calculations show that it may well inflate to such a size that it will approach the Earth’s orbit. Should it approach the Earth's orbit but not consume it, then the Earth will become something like an overgrown planet Mercury with the sun’s heat baking the surface. Since the sun will be a red giant with a surface temperature of around three thousand degrees instead of the present six thousand degrees, it will bath the earth and the moon’s surface with a red light. Should, the sun swell out further, then the sun will consume the Earth-moon system. Therefore, the Earth's destruction will indeed be by fire in the end.

Before we reach these stages however, the sun which is slowly getting hotter in its present stage of evolution will probably cause the destruction or removal of life from the Earth well before it reaches the red giant stage, perhaps in around one billion years time. I say that this equates with the time of tribulation spoken of in the Bible. We will be far more advanced than we are now. We will have succeeded in our primary task of subduing the Earth. We will have long been in a position to finely control the temperature of the Earth as it passes through what would have otherwise been the highs and lows of temperature variation, which could cause large scale climatic change. Even with our present technology, it is not too difficult to imagine how this could be done. Giant sheets of reflective foil erected in strategic positions around the Earth could do the job. If the Earth’s temperature were to become too hot, we could alter their position to reflect some of the sun’s heat away from the Earth. During cold periods, we could position them so that they reflected more of the sun’s heat onto the Earth. We would also be able to increase and decrease the greenhouse effect of the atmosphere. Inevitably, the time would come, when we would be literally overpowered. The seas will then heat up and the atmosphere will turn opaque blotting out the light of all heavenly bodies. If any of our descendants are around at that time then they will have had to take their chances with the star ships of the future or stay behind and live out the consequences. Later all the oceans and seas will go and the Earth may look more as Mars does today. Then the sun will eventually enter its red giant stage. Naturally, the stars will not literally fall from heaven but it certainly would seem like that from the surface of the Earth. It will be a truly cataclysmic time with no parallel.

The descriptions from two thousand years ago are quite remarkable.

In Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, Jesus gives a good description of what he sees this time will be like. In Revelation, John has a vision of a large number of people, which he refers to as the 144,000, having been chosen to be saved. He also refers to the old Earth having passed away and the fact that there was no sea.

The confusing thing is, that Jesus himself says, that this generation will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled. He appears to believe that the end is quite close at hand. Therefore, he was either referring to an imminent end or he was talking in a broader sense about this generation of people, that is the human race. If you accept reincarnation, then it makes no difference, as souls come back to live again throughout all history.

Should the human race survive or still be around in those days, we can only speculate, as we have done, about what conditions will be like. It does not do to dwell on it too long without a thorough bout of depression setting in. Naturally, scientists of the future, although not knowing the exact timing will have long known that time would be running out. The sun would have started to output more energy and warm up the Earth. We will have done our best to keep this stable with the technology available. For the Earth, it will be a time of tribulation without parallel in the history of the Earth. One would assume that the technology of those far off days would include star ships, which would be assembled in outer space or up in the physical heavens. We would hope that they will be like giant arks with the ability to transport large numbers of people and animals and plants. Obviously, we will have to plan this well in advance of the end. Those that do make the journey will have to be “chosen” by whatever politics dictate at the time. It would make sense, in order to preserve our genetic heritage to choose large numbers from all races on the Earth. There may be thousands who would attempt such a journey on a fleet of ships. They would be safe from whatever tribulation remained. The equatorial regions would obviously be the first regions to become uninhabitable, dividing the world in two. People will seek refuge in the coolest places available, perhaps in the mountain caverns of the Earth. Daytime will be a time to avoid. Not everyone will have wanted to leave their birthplace for the stars. They will want to live out the remainder of their life on the Earth. It would make sense to cut those times short by not bringing any more people into such a physically dieing world. We could do this ourselves by sterilisation. Maybe the Universe will do it for us because of the excess radiation arriving at the Earth. Those that remain will have said goodbye to the chosen ones as they make their way to the new Earth, which was discovered millions of years ago in its early stages of development. They will be able to tell their children about the early discoveries made around the start of the millennium.

For further information try the following words in your search engine in different combinations: red giant, world end, stellar evolution.

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