How could we destroy the Earth?
December 4, 2010 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Assuming one had the collective resources of the world's military, scientific institutions and civilian organisations, what would be the simplest, most efficient method of destroying the Earth?

By destroy, I mean for the planet to be either entirely fragmented, vaporised, or permanently and irrevocably sterilised, so that no life could ever arise again. Also, one would have to work within valid techniques in physics, chemistry or biology.
posted by malusmoriendumest to Science & Nature (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Heat it up?
posted by episodic at 3:23 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Build as many hydrogen bombs as possible. Detonate them in strategic locations.
posted by phrontist at 3:28 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This would only wipe out a lot of life for a while. I don't think it's possible for humans to do any significant structural damage to earth, or wipe out all forms of life, or prevent life from flourishing for more than a few hundred million years.
posted by phrontist at 3:32 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cobalt bombs, nuclear weapons modified to release extra radiation were proposed bein able to end all life on earth.
posted by scodger at 3:34 PM on December 4, 2010


Assuming you have enough patience, the simplest method would be to paint one hemisphere of the moon black. Then differential radiation pressure from sunlight would reduce its orbital velocity, lowering its orbit, until it eventually collides with the earth.

You could use powdered coal dust or something like that to put a thin black layer over the appropriate hemisphere of the moon.

My physics is too rusty to calculate how long it would take for the moon to spiral into the earth, but after it hits, the surface of the earth should become molten lava for a pretty long time.

This method has been proposed as the most practical way of deflecting a stray asteroid away from hitting the earth.
posted by monotreme at 3:40 PM on December 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


As an SF reader, IANAP/C/B. You could start with Wikipedia: Risks to civilization, humans, and planet Earth.

Of course, if you are not limited to current technology (which includes nuclear warfare but not manipulation of gravity), you have a much wider range of possible doomsday scenarios.
posted by bad grammar at 3:40 PM on December 4, 2010




If you include all forms of life, this is near-impossible, short of plunging Earth into the sun. Because there are some forms of life that are heat, radiation, dessication, cold resistant. And able to survive exposure in outer space. Plus those that live in inacessable locations, like within the Earth's crust, or on deep sea vents.
posted by Hither at 3:57 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


what would be the simplest, most efficient method of destroying the Earth?

Wait billions of years. The sun will eventually destroy the Earth. That'd be the simplest, most efficient way.

Oh, wait. You meant "simplest to do right now." Sorry. You didn't give us a timeframe.

As Hither said, there's no way to eradicate all life, especially since we just learned of (potentially) another form of life this week.

But if want to kill all the animals and plants, you'd want a neutron bomb, or the above-mentioned cobalt bomb.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:07 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nikola Tesla once postulated that he could destroy the Earth by detonating masive amounts of explosives at regular intervals at the planet's resonant frequency.

He supposedly demonstrated the theory behind this by attaching a small mechanical oscillator to the metal girders of a building and had it tap gently away. Before long the whole building was said to have been trembling with the vibrations induced by a device no larger than an alarm clock.
posted by talkingmuffin at 5:04 PM on December 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Assuming you have enough patience, the simplest method would be to paint one hemisphere of the moon black. Then differential radiation pressure from sunlight would reduce its orbital velocity, lowering its orbit, until it eventually collides with the earth.

You could use powdered coal dust or something like that to put a thin black layer over the appropriate hemisphere of the moon.


The albedo of the moon (its "reflectivity") is, perhaps surprisingly, already very similar to a charcoal briquette.
posted by Rumple at 5:13 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


You may only have to wait half a billion years; stars heat up as they get older, and the Earth may be uninhabitable long before the sun reaches its giant phase.

Eventually we'll get a runaway greenhouse effect, the oceans will boil off, and we'll end up like Venus where the surface temperature is a balmy 860 °F.

There's some thought that this could be accelerated by anthropogenic global warming, but there may not be enough fossil fuels to do it.
posted by zompist at 5:17 PM on December 4, 2010


The albedo of the moon is ... already very similar to a charcoal briquette.

D'oh! I should have known that! One would have to use white dust instead of black dust and paint the opposite hemisphere, but the radiation pressure method should still work.
posted by monotreme at 6:11 PM on December 4, 2010


Hmm, my BOTEC says that the solar radiation pressure on the Moon should be around 44 MN, which should accelerate the Moon at about 6 femtogravities. Divide by a factor of 2 or 3 or something to get the average tangential acceleration if you paint one hemisphere reflectve white… I'm not sure how much deltaV one needs to land the Moon, though?

I wonder if crashing a series of asteroids into the moon in order to deorbit it would be more efficient.
posted by hattifattener at 7:02 PM on December 4, 2010


Just slow down the rotation of the Earth. If the Earth's rotation slowed enough, then one side of the planet would roast while the other side freezes, making it pretty uninhabitable.

If you mounted enough Saturn 5 rockets in bedrock around the equator pointed in the direction opposite of the Earth's rotation, then you could theoretically generate enough torque to stop the Earth's rotation.

The earth has an angular momentum of magnitude approx. 7*10^33 m^2 kg/s.

Saturn V rockets can generate 34 MN of thrust.

You would need 10 billion Saturn V rockets to accomplish this in 100 years.

Of course that's just nonsense, because there's no way humanity could construct 10 billion Saturn V rockets, let alone enough to fire continuously for 100 years, but if you ignore that inconvenient fact, slowing down the Earth's rotation would be pretty effective.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:54 AM on December 5, 2010


Hmm, also on further consideration, the atmosphere might neutralize any momentum transfer from the rockets, or at least complicate things considerably. So, yeah, nonsense.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:39 AM on December 5, 2010


Excellent- thanks guys. I'm particularly grateful to Lemurrhea for one of the many amusing methods of geocide:

8. Destroyed by God.

You will need: God.

posted by malusmoriendumest at 4:08 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Painting the Moon will not work. The Moon is actually receding from the Earth at a pretty good clip compared to anything you could do with radiation pressure thanks to tidal forces, which are gradually converting Earth's rotational momentum into lunar orbital momentum, expanding its orbit. This has been going on for a long time; the Moon was actually much closer and the day quite shorter in the distant past. At present the Moon is receding 3.8 centimeters per year and the day is getting longer by .0023 seconds per century -- both of which have been directly measured.
posted by localroger at 7:35 AM on December 5, 2010


How about the opposite of this scenario, where we have to deflect an asteroid that's on a collision path with earth? We just find a sufficiently large asteroid that's due for a near-miss, and nudge it into an earth-shattering orbit.
posted by primer_dimer at 2:27 AM on December 6, 2010


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