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What If The Sun Switched Off For 24 Hours?

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Benjamin Welton
Written by Benjamin Welton Where would we, the Earth or the Solar System be without the sun?? The great star powers life on our planet, ensures our gravity stays just right, and helps keep the ocean tides in check. But what if it disappeared for 24 hours? Doomsday? The Apocalypse? Or would we just get really, really cold?

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What If the Sun Switched Off for 24 Hours?

Until it burns our skin or breaks up the rain clouds, most of us tend to take the sun for granted. But, of all of the stars, none is more important to life, health, and happiness on Earth. Ancient civilisations worshipped the sun because they recognized its importance for agriculture. One of the earliest known monotheistic religions on Earth, Atenism, was built around Aten - a sun disk alternative to the Egyptian god Ra. And, although the Egyptians eventually dismantled Aten worship, the earliest Indo-European tribes also worshipped the sun, as did the Steppe populations in Central Asia. In short, it is, was and has been at the centre of human thought for eons.

The sun is 4.6 billion years old and has a surface temperature of 5,500 degrees celsius. It’s primarily made up of hydrogen and helium, it’s almost a perfect sphere and it contains almost all of the mass in the Solar System. So its gravitational pull is second-to-none. And without it, we'd be floating through space, aimless and very probably dead. So, all things considered, the continued presence of the sun is pretty essential.

Obviously, the great star is Earth’s major source of light and heat. The plants we eat rely on its energy to live; The animals alongside us need the sun for their survival; And the tides in our oceans are directed by the sun, too. Basically, the entirety of life on Earth is also intrinsically and immensely linked to the sun staying exactly where it is, and behaving as it has done for thousands of years.

So, given that it matters so much to almost every Earthly thing in existence, if the sun died or exploded tomorrow, never to return, we can only imagine the ultimate apocalypse that would arrive. It’d be a doomsday scenario to dwarf any and all other Armageddons that might be headed our way. But what would happen if the sun went out for just a single day? Could the Earth, and could we, survive if the sun switched off for 24 hours?

For the first eight minutes and 20 seconds we’d actually be completely oblivious to what was about to happen, because that’s how long the sun’s rays take to reach us. But the stars would begin to disappear as our inconceivable reality sets in. The somewhat encouraging news is that the Earth actually absorbs significant amounts of the sun’s heat everyday. According to some calculations, if the sun stopped shining tomorrow, the Earth would only seriously start to freeze after a few months. That said, the Earth’s surface temperature would definitely drastically drop with every passing day. As we live and breathe right now, the average temperature on the Earth’s surface is approximately 14 degrees celsius. Without the sun, this would likely drop to below freezing within a week. So, only the hardiest of humans could hope to survive on a sun-less planet for much more than a few days. Unless we all evacuated down some seriously deep holes, or boarded some probably pretty impractical submarines, to bury further into the Earth and outrun the cold just a little bit longer.

But we’re imaging just one day without the sun, so does that mean that we’d just be really cold for a little while, shivering slightly in the darkness before everything returned to normal? Well yes, and no.

As the surface temperature instantly begins to cool, everything would enter into an unprecedented process of dying - with photosynthesis halting immediately. And if there is time for humans to panic, then we definitely would! Racing towards artificial heating systems and thereby overloading power and electrical grids all around the world, we’d be faced with the stark realisation that there really is nothing we can do. Our world leaders would likely lose authority, and our spiritual beliefs would be tested to their extremes. While some natural disasters afford the victims at least a degree of hope, there’d be virtually nothing to cling to here - besides the apparent certainty that you and everyone else were about to die.

Except you probably wouldn’t. In the impossible event that the sun switched off and then switched back on again, when the central star returns the relief would be like nothing else ever experienced - especially if the sun’s initial disappearance had come as a complete surprise in the first place. But, although the eternal darkness will’ve lifted and bearable temperatures will’ve returned, our psychological states would likely need a much longer recovery period than the plants and crops which very nearly perished. Especially as we’d be forever watching the skies from that point forward, waiting for maximum catastrophe to strike again.

But of course, all of this is assuming that - other than the disappearance of light and drop in temperature - the Earth would otherwise just continue on as usual. Which it definitely wouldn’t do. Because, along with the rest of the planets in the Solar System, our world will have suddenly stopped turning towards the now non-existent sun and will’ve began travelling within a now rudderless galaxy. With planets potentially gravitating towards each other in the absence of their super star anchor, it wouldn’t take long before our established planetary alignment falls completely apart - meaning that Earth’s gravity, mass and structural identity will be completely and irretrievably messed up. The scary thing is that scientists aren’t totally sure what the immediate effects of a sun-less Solar System would look like. It’s almost impossible to guess. But we’d likely not have long to experience it anyway, before cosmic crisis sets in.

Even if our gravity was somehow unaffected - perhaps we actually create some-kind of Earth-enveloping, super-strength shield so that the sun still exists, but we’ve completely blocked it out - 24-hours sans the sun seems a pretty bleak prospect. Though lots of us would survive the plummeting cold and all-encompassing darkness, the random relocation of our planet’s position would almost certainly finish us off. If it doesn’t, then the constant reminder of our own helplessness in the Solar System could bring about unbridled fear and panic. And even when our ‘dark day’ ends, we’d never truly recover from that time that the Sun pulled the rug of our reality from right under our feet.

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