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Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2011
Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Scripture is a silly source of insight to forecast the end of the world. But science helps us hypothesize more fascinating phenomena than the delusional Rapture…
If human extinction comes abruptly, it shall be from the darkness of our galaxy or from within the Earth. In fact, cosmic collisions and mega eruptions have decimated life more than once during Earth’s 4.6 billion-year existence. Ubiquitous nuclear explosions and the effects of radiation could also wipe out people and most organisms, but I will not elaborate here on such threats, since they have been examined by scholars and speculated in the media.
We can predict the probability of occurrence of some events based on prior empirical observations. I am certain that, for example, all readers of this article will not be around in the year 2100. I can forecast with less confidence that 20 percent of my college students’ grandparents, ages 60-70, will pass away within this decade, and that one in every five students’ excuses for missing an exam — due to a “death in the family” — will be legitimate. And I can infer from survivorship tables compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Judgment-Day spiritualist Harold Camping, age 89 — who just postponed his “The End” of the world from May 21 to Oct. 21 of this year — is reaching his own finale.
Judgment-Day spiritualist Harold Camping forecasting The End… of the world for either May 21 or October 21, 2011
Redundant natural phenomena have led human intellect to discover predictable patterns of reality and, in consequence, reject superstition. And this is true about the cycles of the moon, the emergence and diversification of life from simple to more complex forms, the continental migrations of birds, the blooms of magicicadas every 13-17 years, or the seasonal intensification of tornadoes and hurricanes. Science has awarded us the luxury of anticipating the maladies of the blood (hemophilia) or the mind (porphyria) among the inbred Royal Houses of Europe, as much as foreseeing the geographic journey of the next influenza outbreak.
Magicicada illustration by R. E. Snodgrass (click on image for full resolution)
The self-correcting character of science guided astronomers to debunk Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the years 100 — when the Earth was worshipped as “the heart” of the universe — and replaced such optical illusion with Copernican heliocentrism — 16th century — an obvious deduction for those who refused to imagine heavens and constellations in the sky and rather saw planets and their moons revolving around our closest star, the sun.
Astronomy and modern cosmology have made sense of the chaotic night sky and allowed us to broadcast the passage of comets, alignment of planets, meteorite falls and polar auroras triggered by the collision of solar-wind particles against the atmosphere.
But why should we care about predicting cosmic events? Because by witnessing their majestic beauty and immensity we can also study and assess their destructive potential; and an educated public in matters of real global survival is more precious and needed than a vociferous street crowd surrendering at the brainless certitude of Camping’s prediction of Armageddon.
The NASA Eclipse Website offers an impressive education playground for those curious about previous eclipses of our sun and moon, plus accurate schedules of upcoming eclipses up to 2015 [updates reach year 3000]. And NASA’s Asteroid and Comet Impact Hazards Program informs online surfers about the predictability and reasonable uncertainty concerning future collisions between Earth and cosmic debris.
Watching the sky for possible encounters with large asteroids is a priority considering our planet’s heritage: A 6-mile asteroid cremated the “ruling class” Reptilia 65 million years ago when blasting a 110-mile-wide crater in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Few reptile lineages survived and repopulated.
Illustration by Don Davis (for additional images visit Don Davis asteroid impact)
The end of the dinosaurs dragged tiny mammals out of their burrows, and they revisited old reptilian professions with limited originality: they became arboreal climbers, terrestrial herbivores and hunters, cave flyers, aquatic divers, and killers of killers. Their major evolutionary innovations were sweat glands turned into milk-producing udders and breasts, internal eggs that matured within a womb, and large skulls encasing clever minds. And it was the primate mind, shaped even further by natural selection in ape descendants, us, the thinking apes, that evolved scientific reasoning and consciousness.
The Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico (for additional information visit “Revisiting Chicxulub” by the National Science Foundation)
It is the human mind through which the universe understands and predicts itself. And it is the scientific method, which civilizations have discovered and perfected over millennia, the most reliable approach to understanding the past and present, and hypothesizing about the future. There will never be Judgment Day or Rapture or Armageddon. Our planet shall remain cosmically unsafe with fluctuating danger until our sun, the cause of our existence, runs out of fuel within the next 5 billion years. — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved
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Humor: Judgment Day… did not happen