Friday, October 31, 2008

Tales from the Cosmic Crypt

Author’s note: This article has been in the works in some form or other for nearly a year. Recently while searching the Internet for an illustration to grace this piece I came across a wonderful painting by the London based Welsh artist Leighton Johns. On a whim I used the ever dependable and very indispensable image search feature on Google and typed the words “The Cosmic Grim Reaper” and stumbled upon Mr. Johns’ wonderful blog site. This illustration almost inspired me to change the title of this essay to “The Cosmic Grim Reaper”. I encourage my readers to visit Leighton Johns’ blog spot and view other wonderful examples of his work.

As I begin setting my fingers to the keyboard to begin writing this article I have just returned from a children’s Halloween party organized by my family and some dear friends. Following a time honoured family tradition, the oldest members of our tribe have the malicious pleasure of regaling the youngest and most impressionable members of our clan with tales of the ghosts, demons, witches and warlocks that inhabit the dark corners, alleys, and byways of our little country village.

We humans have a special place in our hearts for tales of terror associated with the unseen and supernatural forces that lurk in the darkest recesses of our collective imagination. This is an affinity that is cross cultural and transgenerational.

During the course of the telling of these time worn tales my mind couldn’t help but wander over recent tales that humans have waived for themselves before and after the dawn of the space age concerning the terrors that lurk in the depths of cosmic night. Here is a collection of tales from the darkest recesses of the cosmic crypt. The cosmic grim reaper lies in wait; scythe in hand, in some dark corner of the universe ever ready to bestow some dark faith upon us.

The Doomsday Comet

No one would have believed in the early years of the twenty-first century that our world faced many dangers and terrors from the very depths of the cosmic night. Lurking in the fridge depths of our solar system was a mountain of ice and rock that just happened to be careening our way on an appointment with destiny ready to reset our planet’s evolutionary clock. It is remarkable from the perspective of a dispassionate extraterrestrial how a species that prides itself on its technological and scientific prowess can go about its humdrum petty concerns and totally ignore the threats that have shaped and torn worlds apart since the dawn of creation. When the super comet finally appeared on the outer fringes of our solar system on December 12, 2012 the human species found itself powerless and impotent to ward off this existential threat because it lacked the rocket delivery systems to deliver a nuclear device to divert this juggernaut heading our way.

On October 24th, 2007 and on the Halloween Night of October 31st, 2007 the Discovery Channel (Europe) aired the two hour docudrama ‘Super Comet: After the Impact’. This documentary essentially transfers the events of the Cretaceous Extinction Level Event (E.L.E), that occurred sixty-five million years ago and lead to the demise of the dinosaurs, to the twenty first century.

Super Comet: After the Impact

'Super Comet' recreates the fatal disaster that wiped the dinosaurs off the face off the Earth, only it's not the dinosaurs that are living on planet Earth - it's us.

This remarkable programme gives viewers a chance to see the real effects a 'Super Comet' would have after impact on planet Earth if it were to happen in today's world. What would happen to the human race and the planet itself is told through the dramas of people's lives as well as fascinating interviews with top scientists.

This is a dramatic, sci-fi fuelled programme not to be missed!

The DVD of this documentary is currently available from

Imagine a world cloaked in complete darkness. Food and water supplies disappear; tsunamis and fires rage, and scorching temperatures plummet to an Ice Age cold within months. Many scientists believe these cataclysmic environmental changes wiped out the dinosaurs after a gigantic asteroid struck the planet millions of years ago...and some say humans could be the next species to face extinction. SUPER COMET: AFTER THE IMPACT dares to bring the unthinkable to life in a fascinating look at how humans could adapt to a new world plagued by devastation on a global scale. You'll be riveted as you watch this unfolding of ultimate destruction that also celebrates the will of our species to survive despite incredible odds.

Yet, given enough warning time we currently have the propulsion technologies to deal with rouge asteroids and are not entirely powerless in the wake of Doomsday Comets. As Duncan Steel pointed out, in his article in The Guardian of January 12, 2005, concerning NASA’s Deep Impact Mission to Temple 1, “blasting a comet with a lump of copper heralds a new dawn in astronomy - and may save us from extinction”.

What of our parent star the Sun. the giver of life? What existential threats can it hurl our way?

Solar Super Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) and the Perfect Solar Super Storm

December 12, 2012 a combination of events conspire to create the perfect solar super storm. Within a matter of hours our entire global technological civilization collapses. The world’s entire electrical power and communications grid is disrupted beyond immediate repair. Satellites fall from the sky and in space there are no astronauts left onboard the evacuated International Space Station to observe the night side of our planet as one by one the lights of our cities go out and are plunged into darkness as a massive blackout sweeps the globe.

The Sun has bathed this planet with its eternal light and warmth for some 4.6 billion years and has provided life on earth with the energy to go about its terrestrial business. But, every now and then the Sun shows its full fury in the form of Solar Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs).

A Solar flare is a sudden eruption of hydrogen gas on the surface of the sun, usually associated with sunspots and accompanied by a burst of ultraviolet radiation that is often followed by a magnetic disturbance.
A Coronal Mass ejection is an ejection of material from the solar corona. The ejected material is a plasma consisting primarily of electrons and protons (in addition to small quantities of heavier elements such as helium, oxygen, and iron), plus the entrained coronal magnetic field.

If these two events occur together you have the makings for the perfect solar storm. Just such a thing happened on September 1st, 1859.

What happened in 1859 was a combination of several events that occurred on the Sun at the same time. If they took place separately they would be somewhat notable events. But together they caused the most potent disruption of Earth's ionosphere in recorded history. "What they generated was the perfect space storm," says Bruce Tsurutani, a plasma physicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Recent evidence points to the possibility that this event, the most powerful super solarflare ever observed, was responsible for depleting away our ozone layer at levels greater than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

This breakdown caused global atmospheric ozone levels to drop by 5%. In comparison, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other chemicals have depleted the levels by about 3% in recent years.

However, unlike CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals, which can persist in the atmosphere for some time, the flare-induced ozone thinning probably lasted for just four years, the researchers report. That is because the nitrogen oxides that cause the depletion eventually rain down with water or ice. Indeed, it was this acid rain that was eventually recorded in the ice cores.

This solar storm also had a severe effect on the newest global communications technology of the Victorian Age - the telegraph.

Within hours, telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe spontaneously shorted out, causing numerous fires, while the Northern Lights, solar-induced phenomena more closely associated with regions near Earth's North Pole, were documented as far south as Rome, Havana and Hawaii, with similar effects at the South Pole.

In September 1859, a super-duper-extra-large-special of solar flares occurred, sending a super mass of particles towards the earth (93 million miles away) in record time (17 hours, 40 minutes).

The earth’s magnetic field was overwhelmed, causing extremely bright aurora and disruptions of electrical systems.

Back in 1859 the invention of the telegraph was only 15 years old and society’s electrical framework was just starting out.

“During the aurora of September 2, 1859,” wrote American researcher Elias Loomis (1811-1889), “the currents of electricity on the telegraph wires were so steady and powerful that, on several lines, the operators succeeded in using them for telegraphic purposes as a substitute for the battery.” For a time, messages were transmitted solely on auroral currents.

That’s right - no batteries.

Today if a solar storm of that magnitude occurred it would have a far greater impact on our global civilization which has become highly dependent on electrical technology.

Back in 1859 the invention of the telegraph was only 15 years old and society's electrical framework was truly in its infancy. A 1994 solar storm caused major malfunctions to two communications satellites, disrupting newspaper, network television and nationwide radio service throughout Canada. Other storms have affected systems ranging from cell phone service and TV signals to GPS systems and electrical power grids. In March 1989, a solar storm much less intense than the perfect space storm of 1859 caused the Hydro-Quebec (Canada) power grid to go down for over nine hours, and the resulting damages and loss in revenue were estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

In our age the perfect solar storm could result in the total breakdown of the global power and communications grid:

“An 11-year epoch of increasingly severe solar storms that could fry power grids, disrupt cell-phone calls, knock satellites back to Earth, endanger astronauts in space, and force commercial airliners to change their routes to protect their radio communications and to avoid deadly solar radiation ........"

This is yet one more nightmarish scenario that has kept me up many a night. Just imagine the sudden collapse of our global technological civilization to levels reminiscent of the eightieth or nineteenth centuries. Within a matter of hours the technological comforts and marvels of our age can be reduced to mere junk.

And, we face dangers from distant suns as well.

Gamma Ray Bursts

It was on December 12, 2012 that that our space base telescopes flashed the warning message back to our ground stations on Earth of a sudden peck in the flux of gamma radiation that emanated from a star designated WR 104 in the direction of the constellation of Sagittarius at the astronomical coordinates Right ascension 18h 02m 04.07s and Declination -23° 37′ 41.2″. For a fraction of a second a bright tiny flash appeared in the day lit hemisphere of Earth, In that brief instant our planet and its biosphere were sentenced to death and the chemistry of our life giving atmosphere began its alteration and the blue skies of planet began to change colour to a dark sickening brown reminiscent of the pea soup smog that choked nineteenth century London.

The distant stars may have been responsible for Extinction Level Event (E.L.E) in the Earth’s past and in the future. Scientists believe gamma ray bursts were responsible for a mass extinction 450 million years ago in the late Ordovician period, which wiped out sixty per cent of life and cooled the planet.

Gamma ray bursts are the most luminous electromagnetic events occurring in the universe since the Big Bang.

They are flashes of gamma rays emanating from seemingly random places in deep space at random times. The duration of a gamma-ray burst is typically a few seconds, but can range from a few milliseconds to several minutes, and the initial burst is usually followed by a longer-lived "afterglow" emitting at longer wavelengths (X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio). Gamma-ray bursts are detected by orbiting satellites about two to three times per week, but the number of GRBs that could be observed from Earth is about three times this and is currently limited by the efficiency of the instruments.

Most observed GRBs appear to be collimated emissions caused by the collapse of the core of a rapidly spinning, massive star into a black hole. All known GRBs originate from outside our own galaxy; though a related class of phenomena, SGR flares, are associated with Galactic magnetars. The sources of most GRBs are billions of light years away. The gamma rays strip away the ozone layer and generate chemical smog, producing a widespread chill that grips the Earth. An expected electromagnetic pulse will zap all of our electronics.

It was reported earlier this year that our planet currently lies in the line of sight of such a star designated WR-104, a mere 8,000 light years away in the constellation of Sagittarius, roughly a quarter of the way to the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy

How will humankind and the entire biosphere hold up in the face of such a global catastrophe and how can we hope to defend ourselves in the face of such a devastating danger?

Alien Invasion

Excerpt from the Encyclopaedia Galactica:

A fundamental lesson learned by all emerging technological civilizations is: NEVER ADVERTISE THE FACT OF YOUR EXISTENCE!

In recent months a number of articles have appeared in the popular press and elsewhere concerning the dangers of initiating first contact with any extraterrestrial civilizations that may share the galaxy with us.

Yet of even greater concern to me are alien invaders that we cannot see with the naked eye.

On December 12, 2012 reports stated flooding the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at their Headquarters in DeKalb County, Georgia from all over the major urban centres of the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa of a new virulent strain of flu that caused its victims to suffer from violent convulsions and massive haemorrhaging of the lungs within twelve hours of contracting this sickness. By Christmas Day the human species was on brink of extinction.

Human have faced the danger of pandemics since the dawn of its existence. From the black death of the 14th century to the Spanish flu of 1918 to the SARS epidemic of the twenty first century. Diseases devastated entire societies. Now health officials fear that we may be on a verge of another epidemic and one scientist believes that the culprit my come from outer space and we my have no defence against these extra terrestrial diseases. The result could be catastrophic to our species and life on Earth in general.

But, the existential dangers humanity faces are not just emanating from deep space and the immediate solar neighbourhood. Our dear mother Earth may have nasty surprises in store for us as well. We face the dangers of super volcanism, and natural climatic change. And, we humans pose perhaps the greatest danger to ourselves. Our propensities of fouling our own nest and large scale aggression may lead to global conflicts waged with the fatal fruits of our own highly vaulted ingenuity.

So allow me to close this article by wishing you all dear readers a very chilling and sleepless Halloween Night and offer the following treats for your delightful fright.

Lasts Days on Earth

Mega Disaster - Alien Infection

Watch Alien Infection in Educational | View More Free Videos Online at

Super Comet After The Impact

The Perfect Disaster - Solar Storm

Mega Disasters - Gamma Ray Burst


Anonymous said...
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Tom Marking said...

I finally got around to viewing all of the videos. Most of them were quite good, although I do have quite a few nitpicks which I elaborate as follows:

1.) In the first video (Last Days of Earth?), they outline the top 7 dangers to the earth. Actually it should be 8 since gamma ray bursts (GRB) and black hole collisions were both listed under number 7. It's not clear what algorithm they were using for choosing these threats or their ordering. Perhaps the most likely threat had the lowest number but they don't really say. Anyway, the portrayal of the blackhole sucking in the earth was quite misleading. The blackhole was portrayed as being roughly the same size as the earth but in reality a 3-solar mass black hole has a diameter of only 18 kilometers.

2.) The Alien Infection video featured Chandra Wickramasinghe who was claiming that major pandemics in the past (including the 1918 Spanish Flu) were caused by extraterrestrial germs originating in comets. It failed to mention that his theories do not have much support in the rest of the scientific community. At one time both Wickramasinghe and his mentor Fred Hoyle claimed that interstellar dust is composed of bacteria and they even claimed to have found living extraterrestrial bacteria in meteorites - both of these claims are widely accepted as being discredited these days.

3.) The SuperComet video was quite interesting. I felt so sorry for Fernando who was trying to get back to his home in the Yucatan Peninsula which happened to be the impact point (although why he has a Spanish first name and never speaks one word of Espanol is never explained). There were a few contradictions such as when they state that the reentry of the ejecta will cause the surface to heat up to 700 degrees (Fahrenheit?, Celsius?) but they show a French family escape it by getting into a boat and paddling down a canal. Hello!, water boils at 212 deg F or 100 deg C so that canal would have been boiling. Why the people would have wanted to leave Hawaii on a boat is beyond me. That would probably be the safeest place to be. They say later in the film that the climate near large bodies of water will be the warmest anywhere on the planet. Finally, it's always fun to see one's hope city get destroyed as when they showed Houston being done in by the fireball. I'm not so sure about that. I think Houston would have been out of the fireball zone but the air blast would have been enormous, probably strong enough to knock down most of the buildings in the city.

4.) The Perfect Solar Storm video is probably the weakest of the four. The scene where they show the electricity arcing between transformers in a power station was pathetic. This supposedly caused the wooden poles containing them to immediately snap off and collapse. LOL. Give me a break.