What If The Sun Just Totally Disappeared?

This is actually a pretty great thought experiment. At first it might seem kind of pointless to talk about what would happen if the sun vanished, but it doesn't actually result in the immediate destruction of everything. Which is weird.

Vsauce walks through a pretty nuanced description of how earth's natural systems would slowly fail, but over weeks and even years, not seconds. The cold would get us in the end, but extremophiles that live in deep sea volcanoes and thermal vents could survive for billions of years. If you're not heliocentric and human-centric things don't look so bleak. [Vsauce]


Comments

    You mean apart from the earth and all the other planets and asteroids and what not flying off into space?

    It would get darker.

      And colder.

      On the up side, we wouldn't have to worry about skin cancer.

      It's unnatural for a large body of mass holding stable orbit to suddenly disappear, so we don't actually know how those orbits would collapse. It would probably be over time rather than instantaneously.

        well if the mass of the sun disappeared then nothing would hold any in their orbits. earth would leave the current orbit of the solar system. it wouldn't change things on earth much unless the earth got stuck in a orbit with Jupiter. that could be possible depending on timing.

        Gravity isn't a force that travels across space over time, it is caused by the curvature in space-time created by mass, so if the sun disappeared instantly, so would the curvature it creates in local space-time and the Earth would start heading off in a straight line tangential to it's point in it's orbit at that time.

          Despite claims by people like Van Flandern, consensus is that gravity does indeed have a finite speed. Instantaneous gravity is a Newtonian notion. In relativity, gravitational field propagation happens at the speed of light. If it didn't, it would violate the principles of simultaneity and causality.

          Last edited 01/04/13 7:24 pm

            I agree with this notion. While I think a theoretical physicist could better explain this and probably back it up with calculations, I would suggest imagining a whole galaxy instead. If the dense centre of the galaxy were to suddenly disappear, it would take some time before the rest of the galaxy finally catch up and fall apart. Of course objects will eventually go off in tangents, but after how long?

    Those middle class wankers who spent thousands on solar panels to suck overpriced feed-in tariffs from the less well-off will be really pissed off. Good.

    With the death of all surface plant-life in a matter of weeks, followed by the death of most domesticated animals due to lack of food, starvation is what will kill most humans long before the cold sets in.

    A few comments on the oxygen issue.

    Humans aren't the only consumers of oxygen on the planet. Domesticated animals alone consume 7 times more oxygen than humans, and bacteria a few thousand times. All factored in, including conservative estimates of death rates, rather than having 'thousands' of years there's really only enough oxygen in the atmosphere to sustain the current oxygen-consuming population of the planet for about 30 years. That's assuming, of course, that not a single fire burns anywhere on the planet for that 30 year period, and with the rioting that would undoubtedly follow the disappearance of the sun, how likely do you suppose that is?

    Add to that, rust. All the iron and other oxidising metals and substances we've dug up from beneath the ground to build cars and factories and gadgets, they'll all also be consuming oxygen from the atmosphere.

    But it's yet worse than that. CO² is about 40% heavier than O². Earth's atmosphere is some 100km thick with the densest part at the bottom, and the vast majority of the Earth's surface lies below 1km above sea-level. Within about 3 years, 90% of the Earth's surface would be unbreathable, flooded with carbon dioxide as it all sinks to sea level and the O² is pushed into the upper parts of the atmosphere.

    While that would have the effect of drastically reducing the population of oxygen-consumers, the vast majority of human life would also be faced with death. Sure, we could build airtight habitats for ourselves and try to pump oxygen down from the upper atmosphere, but we have a hard enough time building towers 1km tall right now without worrying about trying to build them 5 or 10km tall.

    Then there's the energy problem. No solar energy, minimal tidal energy (assuming the moon stays with us to begin with), no combustible fuels because that would be a colossal waste of oxygen. What would power the pumps that bring the breathable oxygen down to the habitats? There aren't anywhere near enough energy sources available to power the systems humanity would need to survive.

    All that considered, humanity would be extremely lucky to survive past 5 years, 10 tops.

      While that reasoning is all pretty good, I think you're underestimating the warming effect of the Sun. Absolutely, plant life would die off in short order - but consider that Earth is only habitable because it can release the heat it collects pretty quickly from its dark side. If it's all dark, all the time, Earth will still be radiating that heat out into space but it won't ever be replenished. I think it would be a matter of days before most surface and atmospheric water was frozen and the oceans start to freeze. Without the Sun to keep it warm the atmosphere would freeze like the moons of Jupiter or Saturn.

      Deep-sea vents, volcanoes and perhaps the hottest of geysers (plus the meltdown sites of Chernobyl and Fukushima) would be just about the only warm spots left on Earth, and it would happen FAST. Survival options would be pretty slim, and would depend largely on securing stable nuclear power and underground hydroponics.

      More or less, this:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Pail_of_Air

      This is of course before we take into account your reasoning and the unknown effects of removing the solar wind/magnetic field that protects us from cosmic radiation.

    Would be good for an Eternal game of Ultimate Frisbee in the dark

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