The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy, a reading on the state of chaos within an isolated system, can only increase.
For example, an abandoned house will most likely continue to deteriorate as opposed to rebuild itself into a rigid structure that resembles its past standing.
The observable universe showcases the chaos and brutality that can take place when systems exist over time. The universe has an inherently high level of entropy as we will see. Everything in our universe from the micro to the macro, is out to end mankind.
It’s easy however to forget how fragile our existence is, especially when we focus only on man-made devices. Today, we claim that this is the most peaceful period in man’s history; global conflict has reduced, poverty decreased and mortality rates have plummeted.
These concerns however are so small on the universe’s scale that they can be considered almost “instantaneous readings”.
The past million years have been the most climatically volatile since dinosaurs roamed Earth. While we like to think of Earth as an incubator for life, thinking we’re in the “sweet spot” in the Milky Way is a painfully false claim.
As Tyler Durden says in “Fight Club”,
“On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero”.
In humans’ short life-span of only 200,000 years, our near-misses from extinction have been to say the least, a miracle.
135,000 years ago in Africa, humans were facing the beginning of Marine Isotope Stage 6 (a classification of the Earth’s climate). This stage was characterised by its brutal coldness and dryness that would culminate in a savage drought.
Consequently, human populations are thought to have plummeted from 10,000 to possibly 600. What makes this event fascinating is that this organic culling ensured that all future generations of humans stemmed from this small band of survivors. Such history means that humans have less genetic diversity than a single troupe of West Africa chimpanzees.
Not only were humans now considered a highly endangered species, if history is to tell us, it was almost certain that we would all die.
In southern Kenya, half of the large mammals in the Rift Valley went extinct between 1,000,000–600,000 years ago. In Europe, over half of all large mammals disappeared. The home of our relatives in Java, Homo erectus, saw 80% of large mammals die.
More than 99% of all species on Earth have gone extinct.
The last glacial period aka the Ice Age was between 111,000–11,700 years ago and the respective change in weather conditions drove humans from Africa and onto new continents such as Asia and Australia. Had humans not escaped the barrenness of Africa, it’s highly likely that our species would’ve perished in the sands around Ethiopia.
What possibly catalysed the Ice Age has only enforced what violent and dramatic living conditions humans can face. To show the extreme brutality on Earth, we only have to consider the Toba catastrophe theory.
To truly appreciate this volcanic super explosion we need to put this spectacle into perspective. During 1815, the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia caused global temperatures to increase by 0.53 degrees-Celsius. The resulting change in climate has led researches to label 1816 as “The Year Without a Summer” due to the massive storms and unusually-high amounts of rainfall along with red and brown snow falling in Italy and Hungary.
But this eruption was only 1/100th the size of the Toba super eruption 75,000 years ago in present-day Indonesia. Not only is it suspected of causing a 6–10 year volcanic winter, but the eruption also brought a 1,000 year cooling episode. Toba’s eruption saw 15cm of ash deposited over the whole of South Asia and saw global temperatures drop by 3–5 degrees-Celsius.
What we have is a landscape of extreme volcanic eruptions, super droughts and a genetic vulnerability to the chemical consequences of these events.
However while such natural cataclysmic events might litter our timeline, their adverse affects in wiping out entire modern-day populations is quite limited. Human populations have grown from 1 billion in 1800 to over 8 billion in 2017. In fact, population growth is approximately 75 million or 1.1% per year, suggesting that by 2088 human populations will number over 11 billion.
This means that natural disasters, despite being unbelievably devastating, are usually devastating with respect to the affected population. Most disasters thankfully affect only local populations. Rarely are we exposed to global events that threaten our entire existence.
I should amend that sentence to “natural global events” as since 1945, there’s been an ever-growing sense of impending doom from nuclear proliferation.
The Tsar Bomba, a 55 mega-ton is the largest and most powerful nuclear bomb ever built. On 31st October 1961, the USSR detonated Tsar Bomba and witnessed an explosion that was 3,800 more powerful than “Little Boy”, the first nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima during August 1945, 16 years before.
In 16 years, nuclear weapons had become 3800% more powerful.
70,000–80,000 people died from the initial blast and firestorm as a consequence of the bombing in Hiroshima. Ultimately, 303,195 have died from the bombing of Hiroshima, another 172,230 in Nagasaki which experienced a similar bombing 3 days later.
The Tsar Bomba was detonated 56 years ago and it showed mankind’s ability to create tools that could wipe-out large segments of populations. Combined with the by-product of any nuclear explosion, radioactive fallout, the consequence of nuclear weapons are all too clear.
However, while it’s easy to foresee a world that’s accelerated everybody into doomsday bunkers, a range of political and security safeguards make such an extinction less likely than an attack on our true Achilles heel — biohazards.
Unfortunately despite our progressions through the industrial age and into modern technology, we are still susceptible to the chemical firestorms that can be found in all types of life on Earth. In fact, such ferocity is found in some biohazards that it’s necessary to classify them as potential threats to humanity’s complete existence.
From 50,000 BC to 2011 AD, there’s been an estimated 107 billion people on Earth. Most deaths prior to the 20th Century were caused by infectious diseases, with pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal infections and diphtheria causing 52.74% of all deaths in the U.S. As such, it makes sense why epidemiologists argue on whether malaria or tuberculosis has killed more than half of all humans that have ever lived.
Half of 107 billion is 53.5 billion people.
Malaria today kills about a million people per year. It’s caused by a parasite, Plasmodium of which there are 5 types that can affect humans. The parasite is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected Andpheles species mosquito.
The parasites multiply in the person’s liver and bloodstream, which means if other mosquitos bite the affected human, the mosquito will also be affected. Consequently, this creates a viscous relationship between mosquitos that are unaffected and those that quickly become.
As malaria mostly affects children in Africa, it means it kills those that are unable to reproduce, inherently affecting communities’ livelihood. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 1999 that malaria killed 2 million people per year, collectively wiping out 100 million people in just 1 century.
Malaria’s indifference to affect anybody meant that during World War Two, malaria was seen as the most important health hazard encountered by the U.S. military in the Pacific Theatre where over 500,000 soldiers were infected with 60,000 dying.
Today, specific antimalarial treatment is available and death rates are constantly dropping. But just as deadly as malaria, is tuberculosis.
It’s been claimed that tuberculosis has killed about 700 million in the 19th Century and 300 million in the 20th century. But most startling is that today one-third of the world’s population is believed to be infected with tuberculosis.
90% of the time, tuberculosis affects the lungs and its symptoms of chronic coughing naturally aggravates its exposure to unaffected people as the disease is spread through the air. This has seen new infections occur at a rate of one per second.
Nonetheless, tuberculosis and malaria have demonstrated their mighty power of killing generations of mankind. Unfortunately this is not the only level at which mankind’s existence is threatened.
There is of course the macroscopic level in spacetime. This is a tier where size is almost unfathomable and the threats so breathtaking that they can consume entire galaxies. In fact, describing these threats as macroscopic fails to capture their true size.
To appreciate the size of dangers within our universe we need to establish our frame of reference.
The total mass of the solar system is about 333,345.997 Earth’s mass. Earth is only 0.0003% of the total mass of our solar system. It takes 8 seconds for light to reach Earth from the sun.
Our solar system exists in the Milky Way, a barred spiral galaxy with a diameter between 100,000 to 180,000 light years and contains approximately 400 billion stars. A light year is 9.4607 x1012 years.
Containing the Milky Way is our Local Group, our local galaxy cluster comprising of 47 galaxies. The Local Group is about 10 million light years across.
The two closest galaxies to the Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds are viewed as satellite galaxies and orbit at a distance of less than 200,000 light years.
Two galaxies in the local group were detected only recently by infrared radiation. In other words, it’s possible that there may be other galaxies in our local group that we haven’t detected yet.
Containing our local group is the Virgo Supercluster is 110 million light years across and contains 100 galaxy clusters.
Holding the Virgo Supercluster is the Pieces-Cetus Supercluster Complex, carrying 60 superclusters of galaxies and spans 1.37 billion light years. It spans 1/10th of the observable universe.
The observable universe — spans 93 billion light years in diameter and houses 10-billion superclusters like the Virgo Supercluster. It has an estimated 350 billion large galaxies like the Milky Way.
Our universe is an unimaginably large arena that has lasted so long that enough time has passed for single cell organisms to evolve into the living and thinking mammals that we are today. This should be enough to demonstrate the true power of what can take place within our existence.
But while the power behind such fusion is wonderfully constructive, the universe has a painfully destructive streak.
A quasar consists of a supermassive black hole, surrounded by an orbiting accretion disk. A supermassive black hole is the largest type of black hole and is on the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses. A solar mass is a unit of measurement in astronomy and is equivalent to 1.99 x 1030 kilograms or the mass of our Sun.
Again, as is common in discussions of astronomy, we need to establish a few foundations. Before we completely delve into supermassive black holes we need to appreciate the magnitude of what even the smallest of black holes can do.
A black hole is an area in spacetime that undergoes overwhelmingly strong gravitational forces that not even particles or electromagnetic radiation can escape from inside it. As visible light is a section on the electromagnetic spectrum, light can also not escape.
A black hole is created when a star’s life ends in a supernova explosion and their core collapses with gravity containing the star within its event horizon. The material within this event horizon continues to break down infinitely, to a point where our understanding of physics today is no longer able to explain what happens.
The large circular shape of a black hole is the event horizon — the boundary that if a particle was to fall into this area, would be forever lost.
The next question — what happens to a particle after it crosses the event horizon, is a mystery amongst physicists. Without delving too much into this complicated matter, as a particle is added to a system, the system will usually reflect this addition.
For example, when water is added to a iron, you can expect rust to develop and when left for enough time, the combination of oxygen, water and iron will eventually cause the iron to completely change to rust and disintegrate.
This simple cause and effect relationship is not found in black holes as the only physical characteristics of black holes are its mass, charge and angular momentum. All else information about particles is lost and has no bearing on a black hole once it enters the event horizon.
There’s been broad discussion on what could happen and in any case — it’s bleak. In almost all cases, physicists agree a person would disintegrate into their constituent atoms, becoming possibly a steam of atoms.
With this foundation, we can now consider a quasar.
To begin, a quasar contains a supermassive black hole surrounded by an orbiting accretion disk of gas which contains discussed materials. Unlike event horizons that literally emit no light, an accretion disk releases energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation as gravitational and frictional forces compress and raise the temperature of the materials within the accretion disk.
Quasars can have luminosities in the order of 1041 W — meaning they can be brighter than the Milky Way which contains between 200–400 billion stars.
3C 273, the first quasar to be identified is the optically brightest quasar in the sky. It is also 4 trillion times more luminous than the Sun.
Such mighty death-machines highlight how unique our place on Earth is.
In fact, what makes mankind’s place in the universe so fascinating is that if we compressed the universe’s history into a 365-day calendar, our time on Earth would constitute the last 4 seconds before New Years Eve midnight fireworks.
In those 4 seconds we’ve come to realise the micro and macroscopic forces that have have the calibre to wipe out entire species, entire planets and simply — our entire universe.
However, “4 seconds” ago the homo gene came to be, becoming the flag-bearer of carbon-based life on Earth. What’s incredible to think is that in this 13.5 billion year-old mixing pot of absolute carnage, there has also been the opportunity to build life.
And what makes all of this even more incredible is that when we consider the universe’s “restraining forces”, the biological and astrological threats that constantly seek to kill us, then what we have been able to create to overcome these shows the strength of human innovation.
In other words, the greatest force the universe may have created is carbon-based life.