Space is a mysterious place full of bizarre beauty. Despite its wondrous nature, it can prove to be deadly in specific, yet surprisingly common, circumstances. Anyone exploring the universe faces a variety of ways to die in outer space, thanks to the inhospitable nature of the endless vacuum of the void. Everything from solar radiation to a lack of oxygen can spell doom for astronauts. However, you don’t have to travel away from the planet in a rocket to be susceptible to many dangers our galaxy has to offer.
Scientists who have looked at just how space could kill us all have found plenty of different methods of destruction. Planets are constantly being swallowed by exploding stars, while black holes are capable of sucking anything that gets close enough into oblivion. There are even bizarre things you didn’t know about outer space that include weird weather or other phenomena that could easily wipe out humanity under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, there’s basically nothing we can do to protect against these threats, other than hope they never happen near Earth.
Gamma Ray Bursts Could Destroy All Technology
A gamma ray burst is a huge amount of energy that is released as radiation when massive stellar objects collide or collapse into themselves. Gamma ray bursts, AKA GRBs, are the most powerful electromagnetic event that has been observed, even though they last for just a few seconds. These gamma ray bursts occur almost continuously throughout the universe, but are usually so far away their effect is hardly noticeable from Earth.
A gamma ray burst from less than 1,000 light years away, however, could cause significant damage. The electromagnetic energy could easily disrupt the satellites in orbit around the planet, making them completely useless and destroying much of the technology humans rely on. Any event that was closer would risk wiping out the protective ozone layer, putting all life at risk of death from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
Fortunately, in a 2006 study published in Astrophysical Journal, researchers found that GRBs mostly occur in small, metal-poor galaxies. The researchers estimated the likelihood of a gamma ray blast happening in the metal-rich Milky Way Galaxy is less than 0.15%.
Hypervelocity Stars Could Pull Earth Out Of Orbit, Or Crash Into It
Despite their stationary appearance, stars are actually all moving at incredibly fast speeds. However, there are some that are even quicker, and capable of moving through space at tens of thousands of kilometers every second.
Called “hypervelocity stars,” they travel across galaxies and pose a huge threat to anything they come across, since they’re functionally giant balls of nuclear explosions. This means they could pull a planet like Earth out of orbit, boil it to destruction, or even crash directly into it, and there would be nothing anyone could do to stop it from happening.
Solar Flares Could Cause Geomagnetic Storms And Wipe Out Electrical Currents
A solar flare occurs when the sun has a sudden increase in energy in a specific area. This causes a bright spot to appear on the surface, as the star releases clouds of particles such as ions and electronics (along with electromagnetic waves) in a vast explosion. Flares can range dramatically in potency, but the most powerful ones could pose hazards to life on Earth. The worst cases result in coronal mass ejections that involve plasma being propelled out into space.
If this plasma reaches the planet, it can cause geomagnetic storms. Essentially, it could effectively turn off the electricity across the world. Anything that runs off an electrical current would no longer function, meaning everything from the internet to medical equipment would stop working. For a society that relies so heavily on technology, such an event could cause a huge amount of death and destruction.
In October 2017, Avi Loeb and Manasvi Lingam from Harvard University hypothesized that such an event could happen within the next century.
Galactic Cannibalism Could Swallow Us Up Whole
Exactly how galaxies are able to grow has been a question that has puzzled astronomers for centuries – until the idea of Galactic Cannibalism was first introduced in 2003. This amazingly-named process sees a large galaxy collide and merge with a smaller galaxy through gravitational interactions.
The end result is a new galaxy formed in an irregular manner. Considering how the Milky Way galaxy is much smaller than the Andromeda galaxy, and given the relative closeness of the two, it is possible our own galaxy could be cannibalized in this way. The huge gravitational forces involved and the chance of collisions between stars and planets would prove deadly to any lifeforms caught up in the event.
Rogue Black Holes Could Suck Up Earth And Eviscerate It
The danger of black holes has been well established by the scientific community and in science fiction. These huge objects can be anything from a hundred thousands times to a million times more massive than the sun, and are capable of obliterating any other celestial body caught within their event horizon.
Rogue black holes are generally smaller than those found at the centers of galaxies, but are more dangerous due to the fact they can be hard to see. Black holes are invisible and can only be found from the effects they have on space around them. If one were to wander into the solar system, it could cause massive disruption to the orbits of the planet, completely destroying the climate and wiping out all life.
The Big Rip Could Shred Everything Up At The Molecular Level
The Big Rip is a theoretical cosmological event that some mathematicians believe could result in the universe essentially ripping itself apart. It relies on the Big Bang model of the universe, and the role dark energy plays in the universe.
According to various studies, dark energy will fuel the continuing expansion of the universe until it reaches infinity. At this point, the dark energy would cause atoms – and space itself – to tear apart. The dark energy of the universe would essentially overpower gravity and rip everything to shreds.
Asteroid Impacts Could Cause Wild Fires, Lower Temperatures, And Mass Extinction
Most people already have a vague idea of the kind of carnage asteroids could unleash on the Earth’s surface. Since the early 1900s, the general consensus among scientists has been that a huge asteroid was at least partially responsibly for the extinction of the dinosaurs. Such an event today would be equally destructive to life on Earth.
The initial impact of even a relatively small asteroid can prove to be many times more destructive and devastating than even the most potent nuclear bomb. The energy released would destroy everything in its path, and likely start wildfires in the surrounding area. Dust and debris would be thrown into the atmosphere, causing temperatures to drop as sunlight became blocked from reaching the surface of the planet.
Magnetars Could Instantly Destroy Particles
When particularly large stars begin to die, they can sometimes form neutron stars. Pressure in the star continues to rise as heavier elements fuse together because of incredibly high gravitational pressure. In some instances, these neutron stars become magnetars, objects that have the most powerful magnetic field in the universe, rated at up to one quadrillion gauss. For context, that is over one trillion times more powerful than the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth.
At this strength, magnetars can essentially dissolve particles, as the atoms begin to stretch out and lose their molecular structure. Anything that gets close enough to one would be instantly destroyed by the huge forces.
Supernova Explosions Could Destroy The Ozone Layer And Bombard Earth With Electromagnetic Waves
A supernova is a massive explosion that happens when a huge star enters the final stage of its life. These colossal events are so powerful, they can be seen with the naked eye even when they are hundreds (or thousands) of light years away.
The force of a supernova is powerful enough to propel matter and radiation away from the star across vast distances at speeds of around 10% of the speed of light. If that shockwave passed over the Earth, it could strip away the ozone layer, and bombard the planet with electromagnetic waves, killing all life on the surface.
Fortunately, a supernova would have to occur within 50 light years to cause this kind of damage; all of the nearby stars which could become supernovas are nowhere near that close to Earth. We just have to hope no new potential supernova stars form in our galactic neighborhood.
Moon Destruction Could Pelt Us With Lethal Moon Debris And Knock Earth Of Its Axis
The moon plays an important role in our climate, the tides, and the planet’s orbit around the Sun. If it were somehow destroyed – possibly by an impact with an asteroid or other celestial body – it would pose a number of immediate, likely insurmountable problems.
The total destruction of the Moon would shower Earth with large chunks of rock, equivalent to being bombarded with weapons of mass destruction. Due to the low orbital speed, the fragments may not hit as ‘hard’ as a massive asteroid, but the smaller pieces of debris would still be lethal because of their sheer numbers.
Shockwaves from the impacts of larger chunks could also cause tsunamis and floods. It could also dramatically alter the weather patterns on the planet, heat up the atmosphere, and even knock the Earth off its axis so that it became unstable.
The Expanding Sun Could Swallow Us Up
All stars have a finite lifespan. The biggest stars will collapse into black holes or explode in massive supernovas, while the smallest simply whimper away without much fanfare. Medium-sized stars like the Sun have a different life cycle, that sees them expand as they enter the final stages of their existence.
When the hydrogen levels within these types of stars begins to deplete, it is replaced by helium, causing the outer layer to expand rapidly and increase in temperature. Eventually, it will become a red giant and swallow the Earth and other surrounding planets. Fortunately, the science community at large believes we have roughly five billion years before our Sun becomes a red giant. And when have they ever been wrong about the sun before?
Vacuum Metastability Can Annihilate Earth With No Warning
Vacuum metastability is a proposed theoretical state of our universe. The stability of our universe depends on the state of the Higgs field, which is an energy field believed to exist through the cosmos. All particles in the universe interact with this field, and this interaction is what gives individual particles different amounts of mass.
When the Higgs field is at the lowest-energy potential state, the universe is in a true vacuum status. In a false vacuum universe, everything appears to be stable, but is actually capable of reaching a lower-energy level.
A false vacuum would be “metastable,” as it isn’t actually decaying, but can become unstable at any time. If Earth exists in this type of vacuum and were to suddenly tunnel into a true vacuum, or gain enough energy to be pushed into one, it would cause a deadly expansion of the true vacuum across space that would travel at the speed of light and destroy everything in existence.