(Did you hear the jingle? Cool. Who says my blog doesn’t come with bells and whistles?)
I love finding little known scientific theories that take me at least 2 cups of coffee (or 3 cups of hot chocolate) to fully wrap my mind around. I do this for a number of reasons. First of all, I find science fascinating. I think I was an astrophysicist in my past life. Or maybe I was an astrologer postulating wild theories about the Earth revolving around the Sun until I was burned at the stake as a heretic.
Regardless, I can’t get enough.
Secondly, I enjoy this exercise because it leads me to a fountain of creativity just waiting to be siphoned off into a really good book. It is even better when you can weave something true with something fantastical. Sprinkle on a bit of current events and that is an idea that hooks me. Hopefully, it will hook an agent and an editor someday in the near future as well, but we shall see.
Try this on for size. (If it doesn’t fit, stuff some newspaper in the toe of the shoe. It may grow on you) Our civilization is fascinated with the idea of mass extinction. Killer asteroids crashing into the planet, incinerating all sentient life in a wickedly cool fireball. Polar Ice caps melting and flooding all the land except for a single mythical island somewhere in the Himalayas. Wait, scratch that idea. That has already been done, and Kevin Costner ruined the movie.
It’s like we can’t wait for the end of the world. Armageddon is around the corner and my grandma is convinced President Obama is the antichrist. (Don’t take her too seriously. When I was growing up she was sure that George Bush Sr. was the Antichrist. I couldn’t watch the Smurfs either. That was the False Prophet. Personally, I believe if you add up all of the episodes of Barney and Friends and multiply it by the number of measures in “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy fam-i-ly” it will equal 666)
We have developed quite a Guilt Complex over the whole idea of the end of the world, too. There are millions of people who are far more convinced that A) The world is about to end, and B) Human Beings are largely to blame for it than believe that Jesus Christ coined the phrase, “Our Father who art in Heaven…”
They may be right on all three accounts, for all I know.
But I do know this, in the last 540 million years, there have been 5 cataclysmic mass extinctions that obliterated most of the life on this planet in a very short amount of time with another 15 or so not-quite-as-exciting-extinctions tossed in to keep us all on our toes. I guess you could call these lesser extinctions more like regional genocides, wiping out isolated pockets of creepy crawly things.
The point is 99% of all the species we have evidence that once crawled, swam, or slithered on our planet no longer exist. When you get right down to it, Earth doesn’t have a good reputation for really long term settlement. (This might be why E.T. leaves our planet alone. Maybe there are more hospitable places to settle in the galaxy and we just happen to live in the arm pit of the Milky Way)
Now, depending on how “bad” extinction has to be before it is considered a “Mass Extinction” I have either good news, or bad news. But more on that in a minute.
Pop quiz: Name the closest star to our Sun? Did you guess Alpha Centauri? Good guess. Now, smarty pants, without Googling it, how close is Alpha Centauri to the Sun? Answer: Almost 4.5 light years.
But here is something that is really cool. We might have a nemesis even closer than that! Yep, this bad boy might be a little dwarf star, but like Gimli, he pops a wallop of a punch. There is a project being conducted as we speak that is searching for a little gnome who may be hiding in a neighboring cloud, only about a light year away. That’s not all that far for a little guy. But, there are some scientists who believe that he may actually be a binary star to our sun, orbiting around us once every 26 million years or so. We may not have a cool dual sunset like Luke Skywalker got to see on Tatooine everynight, but we may have a little brother!
I always dreamed I’d find a long lost brother. It’s a really cool day dream too. My parents would call me over for dinner and explain that there was something they never told me. I have a brother, and he’s coming over to meet the family! How cool would that be? We’d play video games and poker, and toilet paper the neighbor’s house all in one night just to make up for lost time.
Of course, the day dream would quickly turn into a nightmare if my new little brother came over and admitted that there was something we all should know. He was a serial killer and was wanted in 13 states. My mom would probably still pull out the hide-a-bed for him. She loves everybody and feels bad for the grass when she has to mow the lawn.
Now, here’s the interesting thing: if we do find this sneaky little guy hiding in the Oort Cloud in our backyard, he might have some explaining to do. It seems every time our hypothetical little brother swings into our celestial town, millions of animals die. Over the past 250 million years there have been 12 mass extinctions, all averaging about 26 million years apart. Now, scroll back up and tell me how many years that little dwarf star takes to orbit the sun.
It is such a coincidence that scientists, who are known for their wit an humor, affectionately named the little tyke “Nemesis.” (Of course, many of the astrophysics are also nerds and couldn’t help but give him the nickname “Death Star”)
I said I had good news and bad news. The good news is that the same nerds…umm, I mean scientists who support the idea of Nemesis assure us that if he exists; his last visit was 5 million years ago. Then again, other paleontologists claim the last major extinction was the Eocene-Oligocene Event…and that was in the ball park of about 30 million years ago. If they are right, little brother could be here any day now. Or, he could have already come and hurled a few dozen more comets our way and they are just taking their sweet-ass time getting to us.
In closing I can’t help but notice a trend. Out of the 20 or so minor-mass extinctions our planet has endured, how many have humans caused?
Well, not yet anyway. If Al Gore is right, we might be chalking one up for the Home Team in a few years. Still…I think the planet has endured far worse than the exhaust from a soccer mom driving her gas guzzling SUV to and from Target. Humans might be the cause of our own demise for more reasons than one, but I think our planet will chug along quite nicely without us. Earth has more important things to worry about.
Like nasty Uncle Nemesis who keeps coming around to visit every 26 million years.