'The end of the world' has already begun, UW scientists say

In its 4.5 billion years, Earth has evolved from its hot, violent birth to the celebrated watery blue planet that stands out in pictures from space. But in a new book, two noted University of Washington astrobiologists say the planet already has begun the long process of devolving into a burned-out cinder, eventually to be swallowed by the sun.

By their reckoning, Earth's "day in the sun" has reached 4:30 a.m., corresponding to its 4.5 billion-year age. By 5 a.m., the 1 billion-year reign of animals and plants will come to an end. At 8 a.m. the oceans will vaporize. At noon after 12 billion years the ever-expanding sun, transformed into a red giant, will engulf the planet, melting away any evidence it ever existed and sending molecules and atoms that once were Earth floating off into space.

"The disappearance of our planet is still 7.5 billion years away, but people really should consider the fate of our world and have a realistic understanding of where we are going," said UW astrophysicist Donald Brownlee. "We live in a fabulous place at a fabulous time. It's a healthy thing for people to realize what a treasure this is in space and time, and fully appreciate and protect their environment as much as possible."

In "The Life and Death of Planet Earth," Brownlee and UW paleontologist Peter Ward use current scientific understanding of planets and stars, as well as the parameters of life, to provide a glimpse of the second half of life on Earth and what comes after.

The book, a sort of biography of our planet, is being published today by Times Books, a division of Henry Holt and Co. It is a sequel to Ward and Brownlee's best-selling and much-discussed book "Rare Earth," in which they put forth the hypothesis that simple life is relatively common in the universe but complex, Earth-like life is exceedingly rare.

"The Life and Death of Planet Earth" explains how the myriad life on Earth today was preceded by a long period of microb

Contact: Vince Stricherz
University of Washington

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