Sunday, July 20, 2008

Catastrophe Conference

Over the last few days, the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford hosted the
On their program you find peacefully aligned talks about how "financial losses associated to catastrophes can be mitigated by insurance"(Peter Taylor), "ecological catastrophes that cause widespread local and global extinctions of species" (Professor Christopher Wills ), Climate Change (Dr Dave Frame), "Hazards from Comets and Asteroids" (William Napier), "Catastrophic Nuclear Terrorism" (William Potter and Gary Ackerman), with physicists reporting on the end of the world. There is Prof Fred Adams from the University of Michigan who talks about

"The Long Term Future of our Dying Universe"

From the abstract:

"After accounting for the demise of the galaxy, we consider the evaporation of expelled degenerate objects (planets, white dwarfs, and neutron stars). The evolution and eventual sublimation of these objects is dictated by the decay of their constituent nucleons. After white dwarfs and neutron stars have disappeared, the black holes are the brightest astrophysical objects, slowly losing their mass as they emit Hawking radiation. After the largest black holes have evaporated, the universe slowly slides into darkness."

And Dr Michelangelo Mangano from CERN on the "Expected and unexpected in the exploration of the fundamental laws of nature". From the abstract "The discussions over the possible outcomes of new high-energy experiments will be used as a case study to address this topic, covering both the scientific and sociological aspects of the issue." Mangano is author of the previously mentioned CERN safety report.


  1. Hi Bee,

    Thanks for the heads up Bee.

    “On timescales of historical rather than geological interest, extrapolation from 30 yr of observation suggests that prompt extinction of humankind is unlikely, but that horrendous damage on a continental or global scale is possible from impacts by stray bodies.”

    -Hazards from Comets and Asteroids -Global Catastrophic Risks Conference – Abstracts-William Napier

    I was disappointed to read this for it was always one of my hopes that perhaps a large stray body might be detected and calculated to impact the earth in say 25 years. As strange as it may seem my way of thinking is it would take a lot of the pettiness out of the world and foster more unity with a common goal (survival). It would also most likely have the side effect of having people become a little more familiar with science.



  2. Hi Phil,

    You're welcome. I wouldn't want you to miss the "demise" of our galaxy ;-) I don't quite share your optimism though as to that an approaching catastrophe would unite the nations on this planet. As far as I am concerned, we have enough approaching catastrophes, yet look how much time we're spending on nothing but fighting vanities. Best,


  3. Hi Bee,

    “As far as I am concerned, we have enough approaching catastrophes, yet look how much time we're spending on nothing but fighting vanities.”

    This is true yet with this particular scenario the difference is the dead line with the emphasis on ‘dead’.



  4. Asteroid 99942 Apophis. Friday 13 April 2029 skimmer at 20,000 miles altitude; Friday 13 April 2036 splat. NASA plans to diddle with The Destroyer: none. Don't worry, be happy!

    Dr. Strangelove, General "Buck" Turgidson informing the President about failure of mandatory psychological evaluations to identify lethally batshit-crazy General Jack D. Ripper:

    "Well, I don't think it's quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, Sir."

  5. Hi Uncle Al,

    “Well, I don't think it's quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, Sir”

    That an interesting point for I have always wondered how these asteroid checkers can have so much confidence in their predictions in as the three body problem being further made uncertain with the realties presented and compounded by Chaos Theory. Yes, we know the large outer planets and our moon form a partial barrier that contribute to being in the so called Goldilocks zone, yet how can they be so sure? I have to believe it’s more based on statistical analysis rather then the computation of actual trajectory calculations in relation to observations. If there are any of you out there that are actually connected with all this it would be nice to know more.



  6. Hey.. Thanks for information! I kept hearing snippets from people I know all presently being at Oxford. Now I know the reason why.. Eight of the speakers at this conference are friends of mine. It looks like it was an interesting conference.. and probably more lively than the planetary rings workshop I'll be at next week (as far as I know, planetary rings don't pose any dangers for humanity).

  7. (as far as I know, planetary rings don't pose any dangers for humanity).

    Until women start wanting them instead of diamonds :)

  8. I'm always fond of the long term view. One of my favorite articles was

    Entropy in an Expanding Universe - Steven Frautschi

    Science 13 August 1982 217: 593-599 [DOI: 10.1126/science.217.4560.593]



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