Scientists say that a ten-second burst of gamma rays from a massive star explosion within 6,000 light years from Earth could have triggered a mass extinction hundreds of millions of years ago. In this artist's conception we see the gamma rays hitting the Earth's atmosphere. (The expanding shell is pictured as blue, but gamma rays are actually invisible.) The gamma rays initiate changes in the atmosphere that deplete ozone and create a brown smog of NO2. Credit: NASA

How Could Aliens Blow Up Earth?

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
by

Earth. It seems so solid and permanent. But really, all you need to do is expand the Sun enough, and the entire planet would melt away. Or worse, find yourself at the mercy of some seriously powerful and angry aliens.

Actually, the beings who destroy Earth in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which first aired on BBC Radio 4 on this day (March 8) in 1978, were not so much angry as logical about their reasons.

In the novel, Earthlings are shocked when extraterrestrial beings — known as the Vogons — arrive with plans to build a hyperspatial express route that runs through Earth’s orbit. The plans for the route were apparently lodged in Alpha Centauri (a star system four light-years away) for the past 50 Earth years, leaving residents of the planet “plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint.”

The Vogons then prepare to do the deed. The book Douglas Adams wrote describes it thusly:

“Energize the demolition beams.” Light poured out of the hatchways … There was a terrible ghastly silence. There was a terrible ghastly noise. There was a terrible ghastly science. The Vogon Constructor Fleet coasted away into the inky starry void.

The situation had us at Universe Today wondering: just how did the Vogons do it? There isn’t much to go on, admittedly; a demolition beam, and then a terrific noise as the planet breaks apart.

We scoured the Internet for some answers and came up with these ideas:

Anti matter

What matter and antimatter might look like annihilating one another. Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss
What matter and antimatter might look like annihilating one another. Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss

Anti matter is most simply, the opposite of matter. If you think of matter as being made up of electrons, neutrons and protons, anti matter has its own particles that have the opposite charge and magnetic moment (a property of magnetism.) You can read more technical details of anti matter in our past story, but here’s the important take-away: when matter and anti matter collide, they kill each other dead and produce gamma rays or other fundamental particles in the process. Phil Plait (author of the blog Bad Astronomy, now at Slate) says it’s indeed possible to blow up the Earth with it, but it would take a trillion tons. That’s not only complicated, but expensive. “Given that it currently costs hundreds of billions of dollars to make a single ounce of anti matter, you might have to work an extra job to cover the expense,” he wrote on Blastr.

Black hole

This artist's concept illustrates a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun. Supermassive black holes are enormously dense objects buried at the hearts of galaxies. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This artist’s concept illustrates a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun. Supermassive black holes are enormously dense objects buried at the hearts of galaxies. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If a black hole were to pop up right next to Earth or inside the planet, this might be a way to shrink the planet down to nothing super-quick. We’re not sure how the Vogons did this, but hey, we’re talking science fiction here. It’s also unclear to us how bright this would look (remember, the Vogons had a light beam), but maybe the Vogons turned on the lights for dramatic effect. And here we should interject with some sobering reality from NASA, too: “Black holes do not go around in space eating stars, moons and planets,” the agency once wrote, adding that even if a black hole appeared where the Sun is today, Earth still wouldn’t be sucked over there. In fact, the gravitational force would be identical and the planets would continue their merry orbits.

A Death Star

The Death Star in Star Wars. Credit: Lucasfilm.

The Death Star in Star Wars. Credit: Lucasfilm.

Yes yes, we know, we’re mixing up our science fiction franchises. This was actually a laser-blasting, planet-destroying machine from Star Wars. But at risk of offending the Internet, a couple of legitimate points: There’s nothing to stop alien civilizations from sharing technology, or perhaps acquiring it, rather than spend the money to develop it themselves. In 2011, three researchers from the University of Leicester suggested that indeed a Death Star could destroy a planet, given an adequate power source. Check out the details in our past Universe Today story.

Do you have some other ideas of how the Vogons destroyed Earth?

, , , ,



48 Responses

  1. Mike Petersen says:

    They could grab a few big ‘ol rocks from the asteroid belt…say Ceres and a few others…and hurl them at the Earth.

  2. nick says:

    “Do you have some other ideas of how the Vogons destroyed Earth?”

    O sure!!! There are way easier and cheaper ideas. Give a nuclear weapon technology and money in hands of insane leaders of countries like North Korea. You will be surprised how quick and easy you die.

  3. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

    The simplest method for aliens to destroy all (surface) life on the Earth would be to place a ring of giant concave mirrors in a low, polar orbit around the Earth, angled at 45° to the Sun, which would focus the Sun’s energy in a ‘ring of fire’ onto the Earth’s surface; then everything would be incinerated over a period of 12 hours while the Earth rotates on its axis.*

    *(Yeah, I know it’s not actually “blow[ing] up the Earth”, but it’s more pragmatic!)

    • Ivan3man_at_large!! Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • Archimedes would be proud!

    • Kawarthajon says:

      Yes, but you wouldn’t destroy the Earth, just life on Earth. How would you go about ensuring that life wouldn’t evolve anew????

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        Well, since the Vogans are building a hyperspace express route, they could convert the Earth into a drive-in diner. 😉

    • lcrowell says:

      This is sort of the opposite of what I have been proposing. I think we could spin large cloth panels with nanocarbon fibers and place them at the L1 point. The carbon fibers would by Mie scattering of light deflect a percentage of solar radiation from the Earth. This would be a part of geo-engineering to head off global warming.

      Your proposal is to heat things up. When I was in high school I proposed doing this to Mars in order to heat it up for terraforming.

      LC

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        Although this is off-topic, I’ve heard of a similar proposal to yours of creating a sun-shield in space at the L1 point for the terraforming of Venus. However, a sun-shield(s) made of a light-weight material, such as nano-carbon fibers, would be subject to solar radiation pressure and each panel would act like a solar sail, making it difficult keeping them balanced and perpendicular to the Sun.

      • lcrowell says:

        You have to do some station keeping to keep such a large panel from drifting. I thought of this after reading a paper by some Chinese space scientists who proposed putting up large metal disks in space. Clearly the mass issues make that too expensive.

        LC

    • Andrew Peart says:

      Why not just engineer a highly contagious virus that is deadly to humans, then start distributing it amongst the population?

  4. Gary W. says:

    If they wait long enough they won’t have to do anything, we’ll do it for them…in blissful ignorance.

    • Astroraider says:

      That is the current theory for why we have not discovered intelligent civilizations vis-a-vis SETI – i.e., all intelligent civilizations self destruct and that is the reason that none are detected.

  5. Yep says:

    I’m going to go with some sort of particle entanglement. The Vogon’s figured out how to entangle the earth particles with a section of open space. Bang, no more earth.

  6. Zoutsteen from Holland says:

    Why not the image of shattering a glass with a note of music?
    How it might work: Considering Vogons reputation for poetry (abuse) they no doubt (unintentionaly) figured out (how) to make their poetry (noise) do the same to “Earth” and just beamed their whole (omega rated) collection in one go (for good measure).
    Example poem left out for good reasons.

  7. meekGee says:

    If I were the aliens, I’d pick up the biggest object I could find in the Oort cloud, and nudge it into a collision course. It takes a very small object to basically destroy the surface of the planet. It might take 100-1000 years for it to fall in, but nobody will see it coming until it is much too late to do anything about it.

    I’d guess out there in the universe this is a standard thing to do before you go out and colonize a planet 5000 years later.

    • delphinus100 says:

      A more modest object (Ceres-sized or less) would suffice, if you could get it up to relativistic speeds…inherently little warning there, either.

      • meekGee says:

        Oh – much much smaller than that. Ceres is absolutely huge – about 1000 km across!
        Even a 10 km diameter object (1/1,000,000 the size of Ceres), coming in at some 40 km/s, will absolutely erase everything…

        I can’t imagine intersolar attacks being done any other way. You’re basically harnessing the gravitational power of that poor civilization’s sun against them…

  8. Astroraider says:

    1. Blow up a nearby star,
    2. Nudge a star towards a close encounter with the sun … a similar star to the sun coming as close as .5 light year should really disrupt the solar system and recreate something like the Heavy Bombardment period if not actually resulting in the ejection of the earth (and likely other planets).
    3. Same as 2 except use a brown dwarf or Jupiter sized planet and have it arrive within the orbit of say, Uranus – that should do it too – after disrupting the orbits of Uranus, Neptune and Saturn and having those move around in odd orbits in the Solar System, the Earth would be left in a wild orbit, ejected or impacted by one or more of the other planets or pushed into a collision with the sun.
    4. Nudge Mercury to impact either Mars or Venus … again, that should disrupt the solar system enough to create absolute havoc with Earth – again destabilizing the orbit and resulting in WILD situations – ejection, collision with sun, highly elliptical orbit … all bad things for Earth.
    5. Nudge Jupiter into a much closer orbit to the sun – say inside the orbit of Mars. Should either result in the ejection of Earth (from the Solar System) or throw it into the sun or cause a collision with Mars or Venus or Mercury.
    6. Change the rotation of a nearby (6,000 LY to 30,000 LY) pulsar, gravitar, gamma ray burster etc. so that the “spray” of radiation out of the pole sweeps across the Earth or points directly at Earth. The radiation should strip away the ozone layer — and potentially the oxygen and nitrogen and fry all life.

    • If they could do 1., couldn’t they blow up the earth directly?

      • gopher652003 says:

        On Star Trek they seem to lack the ability to (consistently, repeatedly (ie, death star) blow up planets due to the sheer amount of energy required, but they can blow up Stars using several different methods. Most of the methods seem to involve either temporarily halting fusion in the star (causing a core collapse which leads to a weird type of Type II supernova) or alternatively accelerating fusion in the star to the point where the energy output of the star overwhelms the gravitational pull of the star.

        In either case it’s always a “chain reaction” type event.

        Of course that’s SciFa, not reality.

      • GregtheThird says:

        Firing a single missile into a star resulting in a temporary halt of fusion creating a shockwave that destroys nearby planets was the premise of one of the Star Trek motion picture films. The notion of this achievement is about as plausible as the “Heisenberg Compensator” that the transporter system uses to counteract quantam physics. Then there is the “red matter” that spontaneously transforms itself into a planet gobbling black hole…

      • Me says:

        StarTrek is can be. Moral teaching is also its forte. I saw the 1st episode to the last of the 1st StarTrek series. Then all the rest of the many other series to all the movies. It was Gene Roddenberry’s 1st StarTrek shows in the 1960’s that was so key and was the very best of them all. After it was discontinued. It got kind of off base. Gene Roddenberry didn’t have full rein like he did in his 1st 1960’s series. A lot of his visions have come true through NASA over the years. He was a great visionaryof the 1st degree. SatrWars cannot hold a candle to StarTrek. I agree w/your post though. Take care… .

    • Lorin Ionita says:

      If they could nudge Jupiter, wouldn’t it be better to just nudge Earth? Just nudge it closer to the Sun and be done with it.

  9. A few nono auto-replicating machines.

  10. Ben Wood says:

    Given that the Vogons just operated more sophisticated science it is not out of the realm of possibility that the ships were equipped with devices that would nullify the strong nuclear force in a defined region of space, and poof all mater inside would loose coheacion.

  11. AAnomalist says:

    If I am a Vogon, I will provide the earthlings with alien parasites can transform human race into zombies.

  12. bugeye58 says:

    Simply by using the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator!

  13. Fernando Santiago says:

    The only reason humans aren’t blowing up planets(including this one) is because we don’t know how to do it yet. If I was an alien I’d be keeping a close eye on humans just in case they start spreading any further than they already have and systematically annihilate everything as they use their gonads to exponentially breed everything else out of existence monetizing every animate and inanimate object they treat as property and then subsequently killing one another destroying everything including themselves in the end.

  14. Tim Amato says:

    Although not as exciting as being blown up. A reflection umbrella orbiting the sun reflecting our sunlight would be sufficient to wipe out surface life or at least freezing us into an iceball. Of course, we could use it to help save us when our sun becomes a red giant if they are’nt successful..

  15. Chetan Chauhan says:

    I always thought we would be done in by Buckaroo’s oscillation overthruster.
    It opens up way too many dimensions for this universe to handle.

  16. lcrowell says:

    Rather than these extravagant schemes it really turns out that from our perspective we are already doing a perfectly good job of this. We will not destroy the Earth, or even life on Earth, but we are engineering the next mass extinction. In all probability we will go down with it. If by “destruction of the world” it is meant the destruction of humanity, humanity is doing a really good job on is collective suicide.

    LC

  17. William Raab says:

    “It would take a thousand ships with more fire power than I…”Oh, sorry.

  18. Tony Trenton says:

    If Aliens wanted to waste their time destroying this planet they could have done it a long time ago.

    Our planet that we call Earth is only one of millions like it in this Galaxy.

    If anything. We are a source of experimentation, research and observation.

    Why would they want to destroy their own experiments ?

    Just compare what we do to wild animals here and you will get a better perspective.

    Our isolation in space is perfect for the research . Without risk of contamination.

    There is no way we are going to be invaded by Aliens .

    It is just not a viable option.

    Their research is much more valuable .

    • Dima R says:

      I only hope this experiment doesn’t come to an end. Usually we cook and eat animals. Maybe aliens are waiting just for the right breed 🙂

  19. Dima R says:

    Now how do we defend earth from getting blown up by aliens?

  20. Me says:

    If they can get here from any-where. They could do whatever they choose to planet earth and to us, man kind. They could be 10,000 yrs developed, or 100,000 yrs, or 1,000,000 yrs, or 10,000,000 yrs, or 1,000,000,000, to 10,000,000,000<==that is ten-billion yrs or *more* ahead of our developmental stage. The universe is approx. 13.7 billion yrs old. Doing the math is freaky for sure. Their techno development would be mind blowing to us in every area.
    How many intelligent beings are out there? No clue. Could be one, a few to the same amount I listed above in developmental years. It is so mind blowing just thinking of this subject. Is there or isn't there intelligent life out there besides "US" earthlings? Rather think of beautiful woman. I know they are here ;-)… . Take care… .

  21. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    The simplest means would be to lob the Moon at us.

    The article goes around mentioning random destructive processes (but the gamma ray burster wouldn’t do wholesale extinction) and even forgets some of its effects (sterilizing black hole jets). Rather droll, if I may say so.

  22. Douglas is my hero, but he missed on this one. To simply blow up Earth would not work – sorry. Well, you could of course with some force/beam large enough blow up the planet, but the debris would still block the intergalactic highway and over time probably again reaggregate to one or several larger bodies. Using antimatter of some sort could on the other hand be possible, making earth completely vanish. Best shot however would probably be to master gravity somehow, and simply tug Earth out of orbit to completely clear the way without any leftover at all. Great discussion. Cheers!

  23. Douglas is my hero, but he missed on this one. To simply blow up Earth would not work – sorry. Well, you could of course with some force/beam large enough blow up the planet, but the debris would still block the intergalactic highway and over time probably again reaggregate to one or several larger bodies. Using antimatter of some sort could on the other hand be possible, making earth completely vanish. Best shot however would probably be to master gravity somehow, and simply tug Earth out of orbit to completely clear the way without any leftover at all. Great discussion. Cheers!

  24. tomkaten says:

    http://qntm.org/destroy

    This blog says it all.

Comments are closed.