Don’t worry! The Sun’s not going anywhere. But hypothetically, we thought we’d explore what would happen to the Earth if the Sun just… vanished. Scientists have the answers…
For the first eight minutes and 20 seconds, nothing would happen, and humans wouldn’t even know that the Sun had disappeared! Everything would look, feel, sound and smell the same. The Sun’s rays travel at the speed of light, and even though this is extremely fast, they take eight and a half minutes to reach us here on Earth because the Sun is so far away (about 93 million miles). Only then would everything go very dark, very quickly.
The Sun’s gravitational pull, which keeps the Earth orbiting it, propagates (multiplies/creates itself) at the same speed as the speed of light. This means it would also take just over eight minutes for Earth to be released from the Sun’s gravity. At this point, our planet would fly out into space in a straight line, and travel at about 19 miles (or 30 kilometres) per second! Hopefully we wouldn’t crash into any other planets or asteroids…
The planets in our solar system that are further than Earth from the Sun, like Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune, would continue orbiting it, because the lack of heat and gravity wouldn’t have reached them yet. Earth would keep on going in a straight line indefinitely, until we got sucked into the gravitational pull of another star.
Once the whole planet was plunged into darkness, we would probably start to get a little stressed. Not only would everything be dark, but the temperature would also start to drop as the Sun’s heat stopped warming us. But we humans are used to a bit of cold weather, and it would take a while for all of that heat to disappear. Our atmosphere would help to keep some of the heat in for a while, and don’t forget that the Earth’s core is hot (about 5000 degrees Celsius!). There are geothermal vents deep underwater that send currents of hot water up to the Earth’s surface in certain places.
After the first week without the Sun, the average global surface temperature would be 0°C. By the end of the first year, the average surface temperature on Earth would be -73°C, or -100°F! As this is far too cold for humans, we’d probably be safest in geothermal areas like Iceland.
Plants rely on photosynthesis, so small ones would stop growing and die within a few days due to the lack of sunlight, and we’d have a bit of a hard time growing food. Big plants like trees would survive longer because they have large supplies of sugar stored in their trunks, but they’d eventually get too cold and freeze. But we’d still have food stores, electricity and fossil fuels for a while, so we’d have some man-made light and heat left until it ran out.
The best long-term option would be finding an underground bunker heated by nuclear power, or finding a way to survive deep underwater in geothermal areas! Which would you choose, and why?
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Words: Ellie Long