Top 10 Ways Space Could Destroy Civilization As We Know It

A starry sky on a warm summer’s night is a beautiful view to behold. We tend to focus mainly on the wonders of space—how it could save our planet, how we could make contact with other friendly civilizations, and how we could learn about natural marvels that we can only begin to imagine.

However, behind the twinkling lights hide some of the most dangerous phenomena that we, as a species, have ever witnessed. From burning balls of gas to violent bursts of deadly radiation, here are 10 terrifying ways that space could destroy civilization as we know it.


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Every day, Earth is pelted by dust and rocks falling from space. Luckily for us, most of this will burn up in the atmosphere. Unluckily for the dinosaurs, once every few million years, an asteroid the size of a small town hits.

In fact, 66 million years ago, a 10-kilometer-long (6 mi) asteroid crashed into the Earth’s surface, creating a 177-kilometer (110 mi) crater that wreaked havoc on our climate. It destroyed species that had roamed Earth for over 170 million years.

While an asteroid is unlikely to destroy the planet, scientists at NASA believe that anything over 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) in length could have damning consequences for civilization.

Enter 4179 Toutatis. This 5.4-kilometer (3.4 mi) asteroid makes frequent flybys past a number of planets, including Earth. Though the chance of collision is tiny, the asteroid’s chaotic orbit makes a flight path impossible to predict. Earth’s next close encounter is set to be in 2069, so let’s hope NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is up to the job.

Gamma-Ray Burst

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As the name suggests, gamma-ray bursts are very powerful bursts of deadly gamma radiation. We aren’t clear on their origin, but it’s thought that they’re caused by colliding neutron stars or black holes.

Usually, energy from a star is released in many forms. During a neutron star collision, the two magnetic fields combine. This forces a large amount of energy to be released in focused beams of gamma radiation. The release can be so powerful that it creates a burst of light halfway across the universe that can be seen from Earth.

So how deadly are gamma-ray bursts?

Well, that depends on how far away they are and if you’re caught in the firing line. Most gamma-ray bursts are harmless by the time they’ve reached us. But scientists believe that a gamma-ray burst occurs every five million years that could be powerful enough to affect Earth. It could be the end of our ozone layer and the end of life on Earth!

Solar Storm

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Imagine that tomorrow you woke up and all the power was out. Not only that, but there was no way to turn it back on. The whole grid had blown, and it could be days, months, even years before it’s fully repaired. Well, as unlikely as that sounds, it’s very possible.

A solar storm is any eruption on the Sun’s surface. These usually have no effect on Earth. But sometimes, they release enough magnetic energy to travel along the Sun’s magnetic field to our own. This is known as a coronal mass ejection (CME) and can cause a number of strange events, most notably electrical surges and blackouts.

In fact, a huge solar storm in 1859 known as the Carrington Event did just that. Traveling along the power lines, it shocked telephone operators and even set telegraph paper on fire.

The damage was small, but physicist Patricia Reiff believes that the same storm today would have “tremendous consequences” for modern-day infrastructure. Potentially, it could leave entire continents in darkness.

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