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Earth Science

Earth's Period of Habitability Is Nearly Over 756

Posted by kdawson
from the nice-while-it-lasts dept.
xp65 writes "Scientists at this year's XXVIIth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil agree that we do not yet know how ubiquitous or how fragile life is, but that: 'The Earth's period of habitability is nearly over on a cosmological timescale. In a half to one billion years the Sun will start to be too luminous and warm for water to exist in liquid form on Earth, leading to a runaway greenhouse effect in less than 2 billion years.' Other surprising claims from this conference: that the Sun may not be the ideal kind of star to nurture life, and that the Earth may not be the ideal size."
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Earth's Period of Habitability Is Nearly Over

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  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:40AM (#29020957)
    Just when we were about to figure out free energy!
    • by Kotoku (1531373) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:41AM (#29020965) Journal
      And to think, we were only 10-20 years away from Cold Fusion....
      • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:44AM (#29022711) Homepage

        With the Sun getting too hot, we won't need cold fusion. We will just need to shade the tropics with highly inefficient PV cells.

        And the employment situation will be improved with all the post-hurricane repair workers required... Future Earth, you can thank me for this contribution to your survival by building a statue in my honor. It should be made of gilded marble and be large enough to be seen from space. You're welcome.

    • by Bredero (1154131) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:42AM (#29020971)
      Yeah fuck this shit, I'm out of here!
      • by zeromorph (1009305) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:07AM (#29021445)

        Yep, me too. So long, and thanks for all the fish ...

      • by mcgrew (92797) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:50AM (#29022079) Homepage Journal

        I'm out of here!

        Yes, long before the earthe becomes uninhabitable. I'll likley be gone before you; my life is more than half over. Half a billion years is a damned long time. Humans will be extinct long before that, evolved to become some other species. Only sixty fife million years ago the birds were dinasaurs and we were small mouselike creatures.

        By the time the earth is uninhabitable, we will have terraformed Mars and Europa.

        I find the speculation that "Sun may not be the ideal kind of star to nurture life, and that the Earth may not be the ideal size" ludicrous. Life is here and we've yet to find any sign of it anywhere else. It doesn't have to be "ideal", obviously it's good enough.

        By the time this happens we will have reached the other stars. So you can stop worrying about it.

        • by Shakrai (717556) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:59AM (#29022191) Journal

          Humans will be extinct long before that, evolved to become some other species.

          Why do you say that? Species tend to evolve because the new form offers advantages/adaptions that enable them to better survive in the current environment. In the absence of this pressure there isn't much incentive to evolve. Sharks and crocodiles are two examples that come to mind -- they haven't changed much in the last hundred million years or so. You could go back to the time of the dinosaurs and they would still be recognizable.

          What pressure does homo sapiens to evolve, given that our technological abilities largely shield us from the pressures of our environment?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by mcgrew (92797)

            In our case it won't be pressures, but lack of them. If my ex-wife had been norn a hundred years earlier, she would not have survived childbirth, as she only weighed two pounds. My girlfriend's vagina is so tight that there's no way she could give birth naturally, but she's a mother, having given birth by C-section.

            We are at the point of self-selecting, and we are evolving to be taller. There is no environmental reason for that. In just six thousand years we have evolved to take pleasure in a cat's purr. Ev

          • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @10:24AM (#29024055)

            What pressure does homo sapiens to evolve, given that our technological abilities largely shield us from the pressures of our environment?

            Our technology itself. Hopefully. If we haven't figured out cybernetic immortality in a half a billion years, I'll be... well, dead, but disappointed.

        • by mcnazar (1231382) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:41AM (#29022679)

          >By the time the earth is uninhabitable, we will have terraformed Mars and Europa.

          I don't think so somehow. I'd give us all 100 years tops:

          * 2030 - Major/Vast global wars over resources
          * 2035 - All the infrastructure that we take for granted today will be but a dream.... referred to as the golden years. Mad Max 1.
          * 2045 - Mad Max 2 (lets not talk about Mad Max 3) lifestyle. Nomadic, barbaric and feudal fiefdoms circled around the last few remaining energy resources.
          * 2100 - humans loose ability to read/write
          * 2200 - I, for one, welcome out xyz overlords...

          Its already too late as no effort is being made to find alternative resources... one days we'll just wake up with, "ZMG!!11oneone... no fuel!"

          Humanity as a whole is less interesting in scientific endeavour and natural selection is no longer at work as we actively encourage our stupid/lazy/selfish behaviour via socialism and x-factor (pop star type show).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Colonel Korn (1258968)

      Just when we were about to figure out free energy!

      G(T,p) = U + pV â' TS

      A(T,V) = U â' TS

      What else is there to figure out?

  • by jmerlin (1010641) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:43AM (#29020981)
    500 million years give or take a few hundred thousand to develop warp drive capability. Either we'll figure it out or we'll blow ourselves up.. I doubt it'll be the sun that kills off life on this planet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stupid_is (716292)

      That's assuming we can build sufficient transport to offload folks faster than we breed - otherwise a large group of folks will be left to feel the heat....

      I'm sure we'll develop something that can shift us around the universe - even if it's just building a generation-ship, but will it be big enough to take *everyone*?

      • by Burnhard (1031106) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:05AM (#29021091)
        If Humanity is still around then (highly unlikely) it will long since have had the technology and resources required to push the Earth to a new, stable and habitable orbit.
        • by Kotoku (1531373) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:08AM (#29021117) Journal
          See, we rush to take this as an inevitable conclusion, but we could still be here arguing over illiegal immigration, voting on American Idol, and crying over Soap Opera weddings.

          If we don't try, it won't just happen.
          • by xtracto (837672) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:15AM (#29021479) Journal

            See, we rush to take this as an inevitable conclusion, but we could still be here arguing over illiegal immigration, voting on American Idol, and crying over Soap Opera weddings.
            If we don't try, it won't just happen.

            Just to put some perspective, the low-end side of the date is Five hundred million or:

            500,000,000

            The human civilization has only been around for about 6000 years (from say,bronze age [wikipedia.org] to Today [wikipedia.org]).

            This means that, when the sun starts getting unsuitable to life, civilization will have advanced for 499,994,000 years.

            Somehow I think that, at that time either humanity has destroyed itself (or the planet, while playing their "nuclear energy" toys) or has matured enough to migrate to whatever other planet is suitable for life.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Crayon Kid (700279)

              Somehow I think that, at that time either humanity has destroyed itself (or the planet, while playing their "nuclear energy" toys)[...]

              Pfft, why nukes when we have stuff like the Large Hadron Collider. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.

      • by Serious Simon (701084) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:07AM (#29021111)

        I'm sure we'll develop something that can shift us around the universe - even if it's just building a generation-ship, but will it be big enough to take *everyone*?

        Then it should be a lot bigger than the previous one.

        According to ancient sources, it only had space for one family and one pair of each animal species (or seven pairs for clean beasts and fowl)

        See Genesis 7...

      • by itlurksbeneath (952654) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:23AM (#29021515) Journal
        Probably only big enough for the hair dressers and phone sanitizers, leaving the rest of the planet to die with bad hair and nasty ear infections.
    • by Carewolf (581105) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:33AM (#29021241) Homepage

      Either we'll figure it out or we'll blow ourselves up..

      Blowing ourselves up won't make the Earth uninhabitable. Contrary to common belief, we are just not that good, not even at being destructive.

    • by geekoid (135745) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `dnaltropnidad'> on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @09:18AM (#29023175) Homepage Journal

      We've invented fire and someone said:
      "Surely we will burn all the tress and kill us all.

      We've invented the wheel and someone said:
      "Surely we will crush our toes and it will kill us all."

      We've invented agriculture and someone said:
      "Surely all the grain will rot, and we will kill us all"

      We've invented ships and someone said:
      "Surely man will anger the ocean, and it will rise up and kill us all"

      We've invented forks and someone said:
      "Surely, we will poke out out tongues and eyes"

      We've invented the automobile and someone said:
      "Surely going this fast will destroy us all/"

      We've invented atomic and someone said:
      "Surely we will blow ourselves up and create giant ants."

      I suspect we will be fine. We will still be around in 100 million years in one form or another.
      If not, they can raise me from the dead and give me a stern talking to.

  • by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:44AM (#29020991)

    Just think--an end to war, violence, depravity, poverty, oppression. Everyone will TRULY become equal then. Who knew the sun could be so... so... progressive?

  • by arbiter1 (1204146) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:45AM (#29020995)

    I guess we should party til the last days then since we have so little left

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765)

      No obviously we should spend the last days figuring out how to blame this on Bush. After all that's what the MSM will be doing.

  • by tsa (15680) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:49AM (#29021021) Homepage

    So Linux on the desktop will really never happen! Pity.

  • by pariahdecss (534450) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:56AM (#29021049)
    . . . and to summarize TFA - Prof. Man Cuntz says, "Wear lots of sunscreen"
  • Sci-Am May 2009 (Score:5, Informative)

    by pmontra (738736) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:11AM (#29021131) Homepage
    This is exactly the conclusion of this article [scientificamerican.com] of Scientific American, May 2009.
  • Ideally... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nomad-9 (1423689) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:22AM (#29021197)
    "that the Sun may not be the ideal kind of star to nurture life, and that the Earth may not be the ideal size."

    Homo sapiens may not be the ideal kind of advanced life form either. Otherwise it wouldn't destroy its own habitat on a global scale, nor cause avoidable mass extinction of other species. The good news? We don't really need to start worrying about the sun quitting on us. We'll be long gone before that, and I don't mean on another planet. I mean gone in a dinosaurial kind of way...
    • Re:Ideally... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nizo (81281) * on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:03AM (#29021419) Homepage Journal

      I mean gone in a dinosaurial kind of way

      We'll evolve into birds?

    • Re:Ideally... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by squizzar (1031726) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:41AM (#29021605)
      Why are we _supposed_ to care about other species? Surely that we do in any way is just a trait of humanity. We could be like viruses, causing disease and death with no other intent than to reproduce. We could be the ultimate disease, destroying everything in our own self interest if that was our innate desire. The whole concept that we should care about other species or our impact on our environment is entirely of our own creation. To ascribe it to some higher goal is still to ascribe it to some higher human goal. To act like the reasons for preserving the environment and life on this planet are anything other than selfish is misguided. We want to preserve life on the earth for our own self interests: because we depend on it (and because we think it is cute). We want to preserve the environment because we depend on it (and because we think it is pretty). These are the only reasons to protect the world that make sense: because we want to protect ourselves and our children. This is a desire that has kept us going throughout millenia.

      Not everyone has the same balance of these desires, and hence not everyone is as concerned about protecting the environment as they are about having shiny toys. They may like the taste of fishes a bit more than seeing them swim. This leads to some inevitable conflict, and the large debates, and a lot of hair pulling from the people who have strong opinions (probably because of strong desires) on each side who find it unbelievable that everyone doesn't prioritise things in the same way they do.

      The attitude that we have some 'higher purpose' or that everything else is somehow more sacred than us is a strange to me. It's like people feel guilty about their own existence. I think that is has some of the same overtones of religion - that you are imperfect, you are inferior, you are sinful and therefore you should feel bad, and worship this, and promise not to do this list of things, promise to do this other list of things. The original sin becomes the carbon footprint. The objects of worship are trees and rocks and animals. You should forgo warmth and meat and convenience because they are an affront to your belief. And if you really get upset you should forget all respect for your fellow men and go and cause destruction in the name of your beliefs. Like all religions there are great benefits for many involved. And there is also the way it is used to control people, and to justify actions against fellow human beings, and often against everything you claim to stand for. The attitude of 'humans are the nastiest bunch of bastards on the planet, we should hate ourselves' is the first step of the crazy thinking towards things starting to get blown up (and peoples grandparents being exhumed). Destroy the infidel, for he does not share our beliefs as we are told to believe them.

      Back to the original point though - humans are just one more example of life. Another species. Another part of the universe. We are not here for some higher purpose. We exist, like all life, simply to exist. That we are conscious of this, that we can analyse it in this way makes us one the most fascinating creatures on the planet. But we are what we are, and if we fuck it up and destroy ourselves, we will know who to blame. It would be a great shame, but you're not going to get me to start hating myself because I accept my own and others fallibility. We may be able to achieve much more, but we may not. What will be will be, so live your life because you can, simply live, that is all.
      • Re:Ideally... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by scruffy (29773) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:33AM (#29022607)

        Why are we _supposed_ to care about other species?

        Maybe because we _know_ we can't live without them?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Khashishi (775369)

        Hmm, I'm in the tough position of defending something that I believe in, but know is ultimately arbitrary at a fundamental level.

        That which is natural isn't necessarily right. You, me, we all live to survive, and propagate our genes. That's what evolution has programmed us to do. It's natural to work together and protect each other from dangers, which helps us to survive. It's also natural to rape, consume resources, and destroy competitors, as long as it satisfies our programming. Whatever we do, Nature do

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:59AM (#29021389)

    They talk about drawrf stars being better because of the lower amount of high energy EM coming off them (as well as they're longer life). But I wonder if they've stopped to consider that perhaps high energies were required to kick start life as we know it. If the early earth had just been an ocean of soup sitting under a benign, dull, low power star radiating mostly in the IR part of the spectrum its possible that chemically nothing very exciting would have ever happened.

  • On a serious note (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:03AM (#29021421)

    If true, our existence is quite incredible. Life on earth is thought to have taken between 2 and 3 billion years to evolve to the current biosphere extant today. Obviously, that means it took the process of evolution all this time to design creatures as complex as humans, as well as the other sophisticated life on this planet.

    More than likely, humans will develop technology that will allow humans (or more likely, human creations) to spread beyond this star to the broader universe beyond. Yet, had evolution been a mere billion years too slow, or had random accidents meant that intelligent life was never evolved, then this would have never happened.

  • by GrahamCox (741991) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:10AM (#29021453) Homepage
    the Sun may not be the ideal kind of star to nurture life, and that the Earth may not be the ideal size

    Since life evolved to suit the conditions, this statement is silly. The Sun and the Earth are perfect for life as it is found in the Sun/Earth system.
    • by yoshi_mon (172895) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:42AM (#29021969)

      ...and that the Earth may not be the ideal size ...

      I think your missing the point that they are making in that of course the Earth was able to develop life given it's sun and size. But that if they were to make the ideal star/planet combo that they would tweak some things to make it perfect. /. car analogy: I can get to work every day in a Yugo. But ideally I'd like to be driven in a stretch limo with strippers and an open bar. In fact, forget driving to work...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Cro Magnon (467622)

      Not neccesarily. The fact that life evolved just means that conditions are good enough. Maybe our solar system/planet is the Windows of the universe; good enough to function but still crap compared to others.

  • by jozmala (101511) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:11AM (#29021459)

    Lets put it this way, by that time, technology has advanced a lot. And we probably have colonized rest of the planet system.
    You can put a huge mirror slightly closer to sun than lagrange point (to compensate by gravity the idea of having huge solar sail) Then target that somewhere where extra solar radiation would be useful, outside of earth. Perhaps even, targeting small portion if to its shadow on earth, so that the darkness wouldn't come to its shadow in day light, but simply day being less bright. Anyway There are thousands of different ways of doing that thing. Only thing that could prevent us surviving this would be some other catastrophe for instance a nuclear war, that takes all the options of making such things impossible. By the time its a problem IF modern human civilization is still around then we can pretty much block it, and probably with better method than could be imagine from current technology. With modern technology we COULD make a sun screen should we pool earths resources to that project so that it would be finished within 100 years.

  • by damburger (981828) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:40AM (#29021601)

    From TFA:

    âoeThe Sun does not seem like the perfect star for a system where life might arise. Although it is hard to argue with the Sunâ(TM)s âsuccessâ(TM) as it so far is the only star known to host a planet with life, our studies indicate that the ideal stars to support planets suitable for life for tens of billions of years may be a smaller slower burning âorange dwarfâ(TM) with a longer lifetime than the Sun â about 20-40 billion years. These stars, also called K stars, are stable stars with a habitable zone that remains in the same place for tens of billions of years. They are 10 times more numerous than the Sun, and may provide the best potential habitat for life in the long runâ. He continues: âoeOn the more speculative side we have also found indications that planets like Earth are also not necessarily the best suited for life to thrive. Planets two to three times more massive than the Earth, with a higher gravity, can retain the atmosphere better. They may have a larger liquid iron core giving a stronger magnetic field that protects against the early onslaught of cosmic rays. Furthermore, a larger planet cools more slowly and maintains its magnetic protection. This kind of planet may be more likely to harbour life. I would not trade though â you canâ(TM)t argue with successâ.

    Maybe nobody has visited us because, from interstellar distances, Earth doesn't look like a place that could harbour life?

  • by filesiteguy (695431) <kai@perfectreign.com> on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:51AM (#29022093) Homepage
    I could - if needed - get myself a Prius. Would that slow down the sun from getting too warm?
  • Joke (Score:5, Funny)

    by bmomjian (195858) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:02AM (#29022223) Homepage

    World Ends Tomorrow: Women, Minorities Hardest Hit (old journalism joke)

  • Move Earth (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:32AM (#29022589) Journal
    I read an article [usatoday.com] about capturing an asteroid into Earth's orbit and using it to slowly adjust the Earth's orbit so that it stays in the habitable zone of the sun.
  • Ice age? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ivoras (455934) <ivoras AT fer DOT hr> on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:46AM (#29022737) Homepage
    Aren't there some much more nearby potential problems that will face the Sun-Earth system by itself (i.e. without meteors from space, etc.), like the Ice Age? Currently, we have passed [wikipedia.org] the interglacial optimum (which happened three to five thousand years ago) and statistically, we are heading toward a Big Winter (popref GRR Martin - "The Winter is Coming" :) ). Technically, we are currently in an Ice Age [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ambitwistor (1041236)

      We don't know that we should be heading for a long-term cooling now. We could remain in an interglacial for 50,000 years (e.g. here [sciencemag.org]).

  • You can do something (Score:4, Interesting)

    by assertation (1255714) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:46AM (#29022739)
    Most global problems are exacerbated by over population.

    According to the United Nations, the global population could be as high as 11 billion in 2050 or as low as 8 billion, if the right programs are put in place now.

    Source: PopulationConnection.org [populationconnection.org]

    You can something positive about this without feeling guilty or giving up having children of your own:

    Taken globally, the total fertility rate at replacement is 2.33 children per woman. 2.33 children per woman includes 2 children to replace the parents, with a third of a child extra to make up for the different sex ratio at birth and early mortality prior to the end of their fertile life.

    Source: Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

    That means if most people limit themselves to just 2 children the global population will stabilize if not slightly shrink. You can also help by telling other people these facts so when it comes time to plan their families they can make a decision that will contribute to a better world for their children.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @09:05AM (#29022987) Homepage

    'The Earth's period of habitability is nearly over on a cosmological timescale...

    Last call.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @12:05PM (#29025497)
    Geobiologist Peter Ward claimed in his book The Medea Hypothesis [princeton.edu]. that the long term trend in CO2 is declining and there willbe too little for eukaroyote life in a few hundred million years. The early Earth probabaly had double-digit percentage C02 like its neighbors Mars and Venus. That declined to percent or two by the start of multicellular life a half billion years ago. Then It fell currently to three-hundreds of a percent until anthromophic burning looks it will double that. But the long term trend is decline. When CO2 falls below one hundredth of a percent it will be too little for photosynthesis, plant and animal life. The Earth will then revert to the bacteria planet it was for most of its history.

    Where does the CO2 go? It dissolves in the ocean and turns into carbonate rock where its pretty well locked up, unless a volcano burns it back into gas. Sea creature skeletons add to this process. 99.98% of Earth's carbon is currently locked in limestone. The rest is in the biosphere and petroleum deposits.

    Fair simple global environmental engineering could reverse the process. Just burn limestone to release CO2. Thats how people make lime for cement. But do this on a gloabl scale.

    P.S. The Medea Hypothesis is a pun on the Gaia Hypothesis. Porfessor Ward suggests ecology is not stable and friendly to life. But it goes bserk and causes mass extinctions now and then. Read the rest of his book.

As in certain cults it is possible to kill a process if you know its true name. -- Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie

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