Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Woke up in a hotel room in Brussels. It's 6pm in the afternoon here. Cloudy and shitty. I go down for some coffee-- the hotel bar was closed when I went to bed at noon. Now it's open, the bottles brightly line the wall like an attendant glass entourage. But they have coffee. I have the cobwebs, and so I have a cup of coffee. Two cups. Groggy. Working tomorrow. Jetlag is getting harder, the older I am getting.

I read the paper--now hours old. Here is what I read:

"If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death."

Wow, I think. I read on:

"That is the forecast according to new calculations by a pair of astronomers, Klaus-Peter Schroeder of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and Robert Connon Smith of the University of Sussex in England.

Their report, to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is the latest and gloomiest installment yet in a long-running debate about the ultimate fate of the planet. Only last year, the discovery of a giant planet orbiting the faint burned-out cinder of a star in Pegasus had suggested that Earth could survive the Sun's death.

As for sentimental attachment to any of the geographic features we might have come to know and love, Smith said: "I should add that the Himalayas are a passing thought anyway. They didn't even exist until India smashed into Asia less than 60 million years ago - the blink of an eye compared with the billions of years we are discussing."

Earth's basic problem is that the Sun will gradually get larger and more luminous as it goes through life, according to widely held theories of stellar evolution. In its first 4.5 billion years, according to the models, the Sun has already grown about 40 percent brighter.

Over the coming eons, life on Earth will become muggier and more uncomfortable and finally impossible.

"Even if the Earth were to marginally escape being engulfed," said Mario Livio, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, "it would still be scorched, and life on Earth would be destroyed."

That's how the day started.