Universe Sandbox Uses Physics to Simulate the End of the World as We Know It

Personalizing the apocalypse with some help from a physics simulator.

“This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.”

When T.S. Eliot wrote that, he was considering the end of WWI and the dissolution of his marriage and the Treaty of Versailles, he was not (consciously at least) contemplating physics-based simulator. But he almost certainly would have been enamored of the visual poetry that Universe Sandbox2 puts on offer. It’s a worlds-building game, an attempt to take the Sim genre to its logical conclusion, but it’s also a way to craft a personal vision for the end of Earth. And it is a profound reminder that we exist at the mercy of larger forces.

The lifelike simulator allows users to inject carbon dioxide into Mars’ atmosphere to try to make life or reenact the Big Bang, or, and this feels so inevitable, crash shit into Earth to see what happens.

To describe the simulated destruction of Earth as satisfying is to undersell the delight of a child with a magnifying glass and some plastic soldiers. Or a skilled Mortal Kombatant given the go ahead to “Finish Him.” Here’s how it might go down if it was me, not God (or whatever), in charge….

Despite being extremely unlikely, the scenario that immediately springs to mind is the collision of Earth and the Moon. It’s a visit that would not end well for humanity.

Beyond being immediately catastrophic, the collision would fundamentally alter the earth’s rotation, as this GIF demonstrates. Consequently, every extant ecosystem would have its weather changed. Time, indeed, might run backwards. (Sure, but would broken coffee cups come back together?)

Roughly 17 hours from impact, the release of energy from impact has increased Earth’s surface temperature to 1657 degrees Celsius, according to the physics simulator (which allows you to track surface conditions of your experiments, including atmospheric measurements).

Earth’s a goner….

A similar possibility: Mars gets hit and pieces from that detonation rocket into Earth’s atmosphere….

Predictably, this is no better a scenario for Earth’s chances than contact by the Moon. Surface temperature of the Earth about 12 hours after impact is actually hotter, 2205 degrees Fahrenheit, and the result doesn’t look much more liveable than the post-Moon impact world.

Fortunately, that’s still pretty unlikely.

The luminosity of the Sun is a function of both its size (measured by radius) and the surface temperature. Astronomers suppose the Sun’s luminosity will increase by 1% every 100 million years.

A projection of the Earth after 1.5 billion years have passed and the Sun’s luminosity has increased by 15% shows things already getting hot:

The most widely-agreed-upon endpoint for Earth as a life-sustaining force (all other disaster scenarios notwithstanding) is the increasing luminosity of the Sun, which is expected to make Earth so hot as to be entirely unlivable in three billion years.

An analysis of the Earth at this point reveals a surface temperature of 101.9 degrees celsius, or just past the boiling point of water — consistent with projections that one of the first things to disappear from late-stage Earth will be the oceans.

The surface temperature of the earth has more than tripled, to 376 degrees Celsius—according to the simulation—while the Sun’s radius has expanded from the current 696,300 km to 702,020 km. This is consistent with predictions that at the three billion year point, Earth’s temperature will resemble Venus’s (with a present temperature of 462 degrees celsius)….

Another well-known end times prediction from scientists states that our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the nearest galaxy, Andromeda, will collide in about 4 billion years.

Supposing that we’ve already found a way to get off the burning rock Earth will have become and colonize Mars or a planet further on, scientists speculate that the merging galaxies will make life difficult by ejecting our Solar System into outer space or, at minimum, moving us further from the galactic core.

The goods news is that we probably won’t hit anything. Scientists actually expect this interaction to feature few real collisions because the amount of space between celestial bodies is vast. Still, things get iffy when supermassive black holes are in play.

Universe Sandbox2 is like a physics lesson on the ultimate meaninglessness of life. Perhaps the most nihilistic game on the market, it serves as a stark reminder that the Trump presidency will be nothing more than a galactic hiccup — barely worth worrying about at all.

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