If you were living in an area affected by the polar night this might not seem like a big deal. If you were situated in a slightly more temperate region where one would expect to see something besides pitch-black, your spider-sense might start tingling as you started to realize that something just wasn’t right.
But what if the above scenario you unwittingly found yourself in was caused by the sun (that fiery 4.6 billion-year-old yellow dwarf star that could bake 960,00 Earths inside its 15 million degree celsius core) ceasing to exist?
First, the good news: you’d never need to buy sunscreen again.
The sun is more than just a pretty face
But here’s the problem, and it’s a very obvious one: our planet needs the sun to survive. Period. It’s not like the sun only acts like an older sibling who always has your back in the schoolyard when somebody’s looking to snatch your lunch money; heaven forbid that sibling meets an unfortunate demise, but you can still fight the good fight in their name for decades despite their absence. If the sun goes away the first thing you best do is take that lunch money you’re packing and start looking for a Han Solo-esque Hoth parka and a tauntaun, because things are going to get cold. Fast.
The sun’s mass also keeps planets in orbit, but if that mass were to suddenly disappear the universe would become like a giant pool table with no bumpers-everything would just fly off in a straight line until it collides with something. Earth could become the proverbial ‘eight ball in the corner pocket’ of the universe as it careens along at the blistering pace of 67,000 miles per hour for potentially billions of years.
It would take the last ray of sunlight to hit the Earth approximately 8 and-a-half minutes after the sun officially called it a night, and from that exact moment we could all start saying goodbye to outdoor crops and plant life that we rely on for food since photosynthesis would no longer be occurring.
Is it chilly in here, or is it just me?
Theories surmise global surface temperatures would drop to 0°F within a week of the sun disappearing, which may seem quick but consider this: the eruption of only one volcano in 1883 (Krakatoa) lowered average global temperatures as much as 2.2°F (1.2°C) for almost five years. Krakatoa was an impressive display, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the sun.
It’s also safe to assume humans around the world would be hitting the panic button with no sun or moon in the sky (the moon is only visible because of the sun’s rays reflecting off of it) and the forward-thinking advocates of solar energy might begin to regret their decision to go completely off-grid. Human life on Earth would carry on, but it becomes a question of for how long and what you actually consider ‘living’.
Initially most of us would have electricity, there would be flushing toilets and we’d still have access to our favorite online streaming services. But as we moved on from that first 24 hours of absolute darkness and the days began to pass into weeks temperatures would continue to drop; as low as -100°F (-73°C) within the first year. And even though Earth has a molten core that essentially acts like a nuclear reactor it still wouldn’t be enough to fight off the planet-wide freeze.
It’s not like Earth hasn’t seen extreme cold weather conditions before (the lowest recorded temperature is -128°F or -89°C recorded in 1985 in Antarctica), but that was one region of the planet and it wasn’t a constant, year-round reading. Antarctica residents are also used to the cold and ready for it when it comes. People in warmer weather climates? Not so much.
Damn you, science!
Our Achilles’ heel in all of this is being a heterotroph-a creature that eats other organisms in order to survive. The food chain would crumble from the soil up as the plants die off first (thanks to the one-two punch of bitter cold and no photosynthesis occurring), ending things for the vegetable lovers. Most of the animals we eat survive on plant life, so as the greenery disappears the meat eaters won’t be far behind.
So what would survive on an Earth with no sun? Look to the oceans for the answer. Organisms that live near the bottom of the ocean floor would be close to geothermal vents that emit heat from the Earth’s core, allowing them to carry on with nary a care in the world as it literally freezes above them. The surface of the planet’s oceans would be frozen, but it could take billions of years of extreme temperatures for the freeze to reach depths found in areas like the Mariana Trench’s 36,070 feet (10,994 meters).
Now, if humankind managed to organize itself in such a manner that we were able to launch submarines into the deepest depths of the ocean, we might have a chance. There’d be no windows to look out of, but if we’re lucky we might still be able to stream something decent to watch on television while we waited things out.