What would happen if the Sun disappeared?
It’s dark and cold in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year. But what sort of chaotic consequences would arise if the Sun was to disappear altogether tomorrow? Could humanity survive? Follow this timeline to find out…
As light travels at a finite speed, people on Earth wouldn’t notice about the Sun’s disappearance for the first nine minutes. At this point, all sunlight would vanish, making night-time all-the-time. Imagine Earth flies around the Sun like a ball is swung around on a string – if the defining, central mass were to vanish, it would be as if the string was cut. Earth and all the other objects in our Solar System would no longer orbit anything and would continue to travel along a straight trajectory. And the Moon would become invisible to us as there would be no sunlight reflecting off of it. The same concept applied to other objects in the Solar System, including planets, meaning only distant stars would be visible with the naked eye in the sky.
Up to 1 week
Within a week, the temperatures would fall to zero degrees Celsius without the external heatsource of the Sun. Although this seems reasonable, it would continuously drop and get considerably less bearable. Sunlight is key for photosynthesis, the process that generates breathable oxygen. Although the current supply of oxygen is enough to last a thousand years or so, plant life will struggle to survive in these dark conditions.
The complications that all these effects would have on the animals would be extremely noticeable. It is predicted that the food chain would change, with weaker animals dying off first with natural scavengers lasting a little longer.
At this point, it would be make or break for humanity. The only options for survival are to build bunkers as close to the core as possible – surviving off internal radiated heat – or head to a different planet with more habitable conditions.
The temperature drop would eventually cause all global water to freeze over, turning Earth’s seas into ice rinks. While the ocean surfaces would freeze, the interior could remain liquid due to the internal heat of the rogue Earth’s core.
A lack of sunlight will have wiped out all smaller plants by now, but the larger trees would still survive for a few decades without the need to photosynthesise. This is due to their slower metabolisms and large sugar storage capacities.
About 1,000 years
The large majority of the oceans would continue to freeze over as temperatures begin to stabilise at -240 degrees Celsius. Ironically, the ice layer provides valuable insulation that can keep the deeper ocean from freezing over for hundreds of thousands of years. At these outrageously cold temperatures, it is most likely that our atmosphere will freeze as well and collapse to the surface, opening Earth up to the harmful rays of the cosmos and most probably meteor impacts.
1 million years+
Depending on the initial trajectory of Earth, it is possible that the rogue planet could eventually come across a distant star, and its atmosphere and oceans could thaw, possibly bringing back some of Earth’s ancient habitable characteristics.
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