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Some help with a personal project would be greatly appreciated

  1. Dec 17, 2011 #1
    Hi, I'm not sure how you guys are going to respond to this request and i guess it may sound a little mental but here goes...

    I'm attempting to write some fiction which may sound like a pipe dream to most but i intend to try non the less, while i am confident in my ability to write I'm not so sure in my knowledge of many scientific details i will need to describe. Obviously this will be a sci fi story and i have the overall plot structure in mind but a lot of the details cant really be put down yet because i am woefully ignorant about many technical details. To resolve this quandary i have come up with a novel idea i like to call "ask some scientists" which sadly is easier said than done since i don't actually know any thus i have been looking around for forums where people might be willing to discuss my ideas.

    I don't want to just assume the moderators and your community will stand for this and start shooting out queries so ill say no more until i have had some sort of response/been asked politely to get lost. The gist of it however is me trying to come up with an apocalyptic scenario that will fit the post apocalyptic story i have in mind, I'm kinda hoping some of you guys will enjoy talking theoretically about the effects of something catastrophic such as this.

    My apologies in advance if this is completely the wrong place for this, i am literally just cruising around looking for online scientific communities so i can speak to people who actually know what the hell there talking about.

    Thanks for your time,
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 17, 2011 #2
    I'm sure most people on this forum would like to make predictions on your 'what if' scenarios, I don't know if it will be allowed though. Some rules on this forum are rather strict, you'll have to wait and see
  4. Dec 17, 2011 #3
    I certainly don't want to cause any trouble so ill wait and see what a moderator has to say before i take this any further.
  5. Dec 17, 2011 #4


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    Gantoris: Welcome to Physics Forums! Here we have many competent scientists; all have the potential to suggest ideas for your scenario if they choose to.

    PF guidelines require us to use correct English such as using capital I for the first person personal pronoun.

  6. Dec 17, 2011 #5
    That is quite an excellent error on my part considering what I am trying to do, my only excuse is that its 8:30am and I haven't slept yet. As for the scenario I did not want to go into any great detail until I knew this was the correct place for such questions but since you have asked ill say a few things, do bare in mind the not having slept thing if you spot any grammatical errors however!

    What I need is a plausible catastrophic event that would wipe out civilization as we know it completely, but not all life on earth and certainly not all human life. The human race will need to be able to recover to a sort of medieval standard within about 2-400 years. The details of what technologies we would use and have available, or may have survived is something I'm still working through in my mind as the conditions of this apocalypse will effect it.

    The background world of my storyline involves an almost roman like empire rising to dominance, not roman as in legions or culture ect.. but in the scale of there power, influence and ambition. My initial thoughts are to center this empire in Britain however this is subject to change as I work out the details of what exactly has happened to this world.

    Thanks for the reply and the welcome!
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2011
  7. Dec 17, 2011 #6


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    One event that could kill many living beings on earth is the impact of an astroid. Imagine, for example, all people in Europe + Asia killed by the impact, then the massive dust cloud would block the sun and freeze the rest. Only a few in the Americas (or Pacific Islanders) could survive this. Or, you may use a large number of HUGE volcanic eruptions to do basically the same thing. That's two natural disasters. You may want to use a man-made ones like a nuclear war or a genetically-modified ebola virus...
  8. Dec 17, 2011 #7
    An asteroid strike or nuclear holocaust are defiantly my two first thoughts however it was my thinking (admittedly very uneducated on the subject) that something of that nature on a scale large enough to wipe out modern civilization would surely leave no survivors and render the world uninhabitable?

    As for only having one small group of survivors in the Americas this would not easily fit the storyline i have in mind, i would need more spread out groups of people. When i refer to a "Roman" empire i am imagining a world similar politically to that era, what i mean by that is there would be several small kingdoms/empires being conquered and bullied by one large one. Add into that mix many "barbarian" or tribal peoples trying there best to survive and you will have an idea of the world I'm envisioning. However the 2-400year timeframe is not set in stone so i guess a more complete destruction could eventually lead to a world like this if the recovery time was increased.

    Perhaps instead of one large asteroid strike many smaller ones could achieve the results I am after? Or some kind of plague/virus could work if there was maybe a tiny chance of rare people randomly being immune, a very small % of the population tho this is starting to sound dangerously similar to "The Stand".

    What I'm aiming for is something that could be described as a "Fantasy Epic" set in a believable post apocalyptic world.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2011
  9. Dec 17, 2011 #8


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    Gantoris, you are well on your way. Keep on going, keep writing. Your plot ideas will evolve into interesting fiction.
  10. Dec 17, 2011 #9
    I'd go with the Earth being struck by a primordial black hole. This means a very small black hole formed during the Big Bang. They really might exist, and some are looking for data from stars that collide with such black holes. They would not be destroyed, but would oscillate like a bowl full of jelly.

    If such a black hole struck the Earth it is hard to say exactly what would happen, which is good because you can claim the result you like. A black hole is so dense It would cut through the Earth as if it weren't there. It would suck in mass, though I would think not enough to change the mass of the earth much. The big problem could be that mass falling into the black hole would fuse and release a huge amount of energy. There could be bidirectional relativistic jets from the black hole, a phenomenon of which I'm told the physics is not well understood. God knows what sort of trouble energy like that would cause.

    I don't see how it could be detected during approach. I think there would be no warning at all. There would be a shock wave as it penetrated the atmosphere and quite possibly a catastrophic earthquake, a sort of shock wave traveling through the Earth. Yek. The black hole would travel through the Earth for a period from seconds to a few minutes then exit. If it were slowed by absorbing a large amount of mass then it would fail to reach escape velocity and return, in which case the Earth is eventually destroyed utterly. That would be nasty, not knowing whether the thing is going to return.
  11. Dec 17, 2011 #10
    Thanks for the positive feedback Bobby its really appreciated, I am defiantly going to give this idea my best shot. I have most of the basic storyline worked out i just need to fill in a lot of the details, the main one obviously is how the world got in this shape.

    Patrick I really like the originality and creativity of your suggestion but i fear it would require an understanding of science far beyond me, I'm certainly no Isaac Asimov. Even if I could pull that of it seems a little far fetched, tho the potential to reshape some of the Earths landmass is appealing. I guess its possible that such an event could cause devastation across the globe and yet not necessarily wipe out all life nor render the world dead, I will read up on it a little.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2011
  12. Dec 17, 2011 #11
    Aliens visit earth and harvest most of humanity for whatever use. They leave a small percentage of the population as breeding stock so that there will be more humans to harvest in the future. They have been doing this every few thousand years for an indeterminate amount of time. This is also why Biblical history only goes back 6,000 years. Survivors of the last harvest invented the creation story and believed they were the original humans. Psychological trauma forced them to believe this instead of what they had really experienced.
  13. Dec 17, 2011 #12
    I hadn't actually considered the Alien invasion angle, it opens up a lot of interesting possibilities but doesn't quite "feel" right to me. I guess its a little to close to scientology for my tastes, and takes the story away from the realms of post apocalyptic fiction and into pure science fiction.
  14. Dec 18, 2011 #13
    If i were to go with the idea of multiple asteroid strikes how would that work? Do you even get "Clouds" of small asteroids whizzing through the solar system in the same way you get individual large ones? And would a rain of destruction such as this raise a dust cloud blotting out the sun, if so how long would the artificial winter last?

    I'm thinking a bombardment severe enough to damage or destroy most major population centers on the planet, forcing survivors to band together in any largely un damaged part of the world could perhaps get the results I need. I am unsure about what sort of long term effects these fortunate few would likely have to endure however, and what state the ecosystem would be in afterwards.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2011
  15. Dec 18, 2011 #14
    To start with, I'd probably go with a known possibly, such as the yellowstone supervolcano exploding, to bring some reality to it.
    This is probably scientifically possible, but I doubt it will look like that to the readers, unfortunately.
    The thing is, while civisaltion is fairly fragile, the human race is pretty hardy. Someone is always going to survive somehow. So actually there isn't a huge problem.
    Nope that can't happen. Most of the damage from meteor impacts comes from the impacts kicking up dust which blocks out the sun, killing crops and creating a nuclear winter. Something affecting a specific area? I suggest a nuclear war. Only certain areas will be irradiated, then, so other areas, people could live.
  16. Dec 18, 2011 #15
    Yeah that's my thoughts on the black hole, it may well be possible but would seem a bit far fetched and "Star Treky" to most readers i think. As for anything that would raise a dust cloud I'm dubious about if people would be able to survive this, surely if the sun was blocked out for any length of time it would be the end of all life on the planet?

    If there was a nuclear holocaust what is the timeframe on irradiated areas being uninhabitable? I'm assuming it would be a very long time like 1000+ years but I honestly don't really know, things like this would obviously massively effect the state of the various powers in my story.
  17. Dec 18, 2011 #16
    Asteroids, nuclear holocausts and virus outbreaks have all been covered in many books and movies recently. How about a team of elite scientists figure out how to open up a worm hole and draw some anti-matter to the earth. The resultant explosion would create one hell of a mess. Or maybe solar flares knocking out satellites/electronics etc causing a global standstill. The lack of machinery and electronics would cause massive food shortages and cause man to revert to a barbaric state.
  18. Dec 18, 2011 #17
    I think some of you are misunderstanding the nature of the book, the actual apocalypse doesn't need to be particularly exciting or original its merely a means to an end. The narrative will be set many many years later in a pre industrial civilization that has rebuilt itself, I haven't even decided yet if ill describe the actual cataclysm in any great detail beyond myths and legends. The reason I'm seeking help is mainly because I am a little bit anal about this type of thing, id like the setting to be reasonably realistic and that requires some understanding on my part about what has happened to the earth. I'm attempting to get straight in my head the chain of events which has lead the world to the point where my book will start so it can be consistent and plausible. So many details of the world will hinge on what exactly happened such as the locations of the major players and kingdoms, the level of technology they use, there spiritual and religious beliefs, the food they hunt/eat and the cultures they have adopted.

    I am interested in the idea of a solar flare, would it really be able to destroy all electronics? If not are there any cataclysmic natural disasters that could theoretically have that sort of effect?
  19. Dec 19, 2011 #18
    Yes it would, but it wouldn't actually hurt anyone, so it can't be classed as a cataclysmic event. Civilation can probably still run on paper. Supervolcanos can send ions into the atmosphere that hve a simerlar effect.
    Not really. Humans survived the last ice age, and there is no reason why they can't survive this one. Only really big meteor impacts cause mass extinction, and even mass extinctions don't kill al species. Crocodiles and cockroaches have survived many extinction events. But it will destroy civlisation, and that is what you are aiming for.

    In chernobyl, a large amount of radioactive compounds have a half- life of 30 years. This means, every 30, years, the radioactivity halves. So I doubt it would take 1000+ years for it to clean up unless you have LOADS of radioactive matierial or it has a longer half life. (however, things with a longer half life are less potent, so you'll need more of it to make a big difference.)
  20. Dec 19, 2011 #19
    An ice age isn't quite the same thing tho, no sunlight means no plant life and if theres no plants then everything dies at least that is my understanding of the ecosystem (again must stress very uneducated on the subject). A nuclear holocaust using modern ICBMs on a scale large enough to wipe out modern civilization would surely count as "LOADS" of radioactive material.

    Is it even remotely possible that a solar flare could actually hit the earth?
  21. Dec 19, 2011 #20
    Well chenobyl wiped out a town, and it is baisically fine there now. If that was scaled up to modern civilisation, simerlar results will happen. Nearly everything dies, yes. Empahasis on nearly. Human socity would be decimated, but some may survive. Think of all the events the crocodiles or cockroaches survived.
  22. Dec 19, 2011 #21
    It sounds like you're trying to have an event which destroys electronics both nothing else. Am I right? I think your best bet would be an EM Pulse. EMP's are huge bursts of electromagnetic radiation (read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_pulse) which could potentially destroy almost all electronics on the earth, while not harming humans (obviously in the long-run millions would die, but not immediately). Simple things like light bulbs might not be effected, but microchips would probably be destroyed. The implications are obviously gigantic. EMP's can be caused by nuclear weapons detonating in space, so your premise could be that terrorists get there hands on some and detonate them over Europe, the US and China, for example. Hope it helped!
  23. Dec 19, 2011 #22
    An ice age doesn't mean there is no sunlight... It just means there is less light being absorbed, and more being deflected into space, cooling the planet. When this happens, glaciers/ice extend farther South, which causes more sunlight to be deflected and the issue "snowballs" :). There'd still be plenty of plants down south at the equator (unless it gets really bad, but I doubt that'd happen), and some animals could survive. Think of the arctic hare.
  24. Dec 19, 2011 #23


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    My 2c:
    If mankind survived at all, in any organized way, they would rapidly try to recreate what they had lost - technology - cars, etc. You'd get dramatic imbalances in prosperity, some places hoarding, others starving (1%/99% :biggrin:). The rich would get rich faster and the poor would starve faster. No one will build axes as long as there are guns lying around. No one will make carts as long as cars are around. No one will make kilns as long as coal-fired plants are around. They're expend all their energy scrabbling to get the modern technology working again.

    What you want, in order to have a relatively stable civilization - is to have it not be able to advance faster than it did in our history. People will need to invest in a non-technological infrastructure - water wheels, aqueducts, ox carts, etc.

    I suggest, rather than something that is catastrophic in its destruction, you do something more subtle yet more profound - knock out electricity. In one swoop, the whole world is now in the same boat, and their path to prosperity is clear and cooperative.

    Your problems aren't over of course, because they'll revert to gas or steam, but still... the point remains, to get a stable civilization you need slow growth.
  25. Dec 19, 2011 #24
    Chernobyl was a single isolated incident which was quickly and literally buried in cement I'm reasonably sure that an exchange of nuclear weapons between super powers and there various allies would be substantially more sevier. Or am i wrong?, how much radiation was actually released at Chernobyl compared to what a modern ICBM would unleash. However even if one ICBM isn't as devastating as I am assuming the MAD (mutually assured destruction) policy to which super powers subscribe concerning nuclear war would lead to hundreds maybe thousands of detonations. What would be the long term effects of such an exchange? I have difficulty accepting it would be a few explosions followed by only 30 years of radiation.

    You miss understand me, I am aware that life can endure an ice age as its happened before what I'm unsure of is if life could survive the artificial ice age caused by a nuclear winter or dust from a meteor strike. If the sun was completely blocked for an extended period how could anything survive? Or am i overestimating just how dark this "ice age" would become?

    If the whole planets infrastructure was destroyed technologies such as guns, cars and machines would have a very limited shelf life as the fuel and ammunitions would run out fast. Of course I agree that a few powerful people would horde what resources they could to stay in power and this would most likely be the origin of many factions in my narrative. My thinking is a disaster devastating enough to almost but not quite wipe out the human race and its civilization, then as i have mentioned the story would pick up lets say 8-900 years later. That kind of time frame should allow some small pockets of life to repopulate and evolve into fairly large communities and if the destruction was massive I'm assuming the technology of the past would be all but gone.

    This all touches on one of the major decisions I have yet to make about the story, just exactly what level of technology will the people have access to. The way i see it i have three choices... 1) Total destruction the survivors are using spears and swords, pre industrial. 2) A kind of Steam punk society where modern technology is gone but the knowledge to build industrial machinery has survived with some oddball steam and gas powered creations. 3) The loss of knowledge to build things from the past but enough surviving equipment for a few people to be armed with modern technology, devices from the past would be the most valuable commodities on the planet.

    I do like the concept of electricity being knocked out tho as it simplifies things for me somewhat, my preference for the narrative is all technology is gone with the "old world" referred to in terms of mythology. But if for example a massive EMP was to effect the earth right now of course there would be widespread destruction what is stopping us from immediately rebuilding electronics, i can imagine modern society recovering from that fairly fast. Fast forward 100 years or so and everything would be back to normal again, is there any way theoretically for some kind of natural/man made disaster to permanently knock out electricity?
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2011
  26. Dec 19, 2011 #25


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    Hi, I like your project.
    My first comment is a somewhat jest attempt and not so serious (?)
    Report current events as fiction and a full coverage condensed focus of all things going on would likely send half the population into a horrified state of shock.

    Now the one thing that might be of interest to you, find a part that has a modern day Nikola Tesla character that builds a Tesla Coil of large size, it goes into a runaway condition and the atmosphere produces a magnetic charge that in fact smokes the entire planet of all electrical operation. Just a thought.
    Not sure if any thing could render a long term affect in a near surface layer ?


    P.S. This could carry to any level of eradication you might need to envision.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2011
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