Nautilus

The Fourth Copernican Revolution

The sun formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it’s got around 6 billion years more before its fuel runs out. It will then flare up, engulfing the inner planets. And the expanding universe will continue—perhaps forever—destined to become ever colder, ever emptier. To quote Woody Allen, eternity is very long, especially toward the end.

Any creatures witnessing the sun’s demise won’t be human—they’ll be as different from us as we are from a bug. Posthuman evolution—here on Earth and far beyond—could be as prolonged as the Darwinian evolution that has led to us—and even more wonderful. And evolution will speed up; it can happen via “intelligent design” on a technological timescale, operating far faster than natural selection and driven by advances in genetics and in artificial intelligence (AI). The long-term future probably lies with electronic rather than organic “life.”

collision course: The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are destined for a collision similar to the one between the NGC 2207 and IC 2163 galaxies, pictured here in a Hubble Space Telescope image.NASA

In cosmological terms (or indeed in a Darwinian time frame) a millennium is but an instant. So let us “fast forward” not for a few centuries, or even for a few millennia, but for an “astronomical” timescale millions of times longer than that. The “ecology” of stellar births and deaths in our galaxy will proceed gradually more slowly, until jolted by the “environmental shock” of an impact with the Andromeda Galaxy, maybe 4 billion years hence.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus7 min readScience
If Only 19th-Century America Had Listened to a Woman Scientist: Where might the US be if it heeded her discovery of global warming’s source?
Human-induced climate change may seem a purely modern phenomenon. Even in ancient Greece, however, people understood that human activities can change climate. Later the early United States was a lab for observing this as its settlers altered nature.
Nautilus7 min read
Where to See the Real Living Dead
Talk of “Mother Trees,” from a scientist studying plant life, can sound fanciful, like something out of a fairy tale. Suzanne Simard is here to tell you that it’s not. For the past two decades, Simard, a professor in the Department of Forest & Conser
Nautilus6 min read
How to Give Mars an Atmosphere, Maybe
Earth is most fortunate to have vast webs of magnetic fields surrounding it. Without them, much of our atmosphere would have been gradually torn away by powerful solar winds long ago, making it unlikely that anything like us would be here. Scientists