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What Would Happen if Gravity Failed?

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
It's what keeps us all from floating off into space, but what if Gravity disappeared? What if a switch was flicked, and gravity didn't exist? Without the force which holds our universe together, life on Earth would instantly, unavoidably and incredibly change! Would our planet survive?

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What Would Happen If Gravity Failed?

Gravity can seem a mysterious concept to lots of us. Sure, we all know that it’s the thing - or force - that keeps our feet on the ground and prevents us from floating off into space. But what exactly IS it?

Gravity, in simple terms, is when objects (based on their mass) gravitate towards each other. Miniscule atoms are brought together by gravity, as are entire galaxies. Objects made of smaller masses gravitate towards those made of larger masses, which is why we as humans (and as small clumps of matter) gravitate towards the Earth (something much larger). The Moon is also attracted to the Earth, which is about 81x heavier than it. Earth, in turn, gravitates towards the sun, which is 109x its diameter and about 333,000x as heavy. The sun and Solar System form part of the Milky Way, a collection of hundreds of billions of stars, planets, and moons that are all held together by the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole at the center, called Sagittarius A.

Ultimately, gravity is what caused the very universe itself to mold into being. The attraction between gaseous matter formed the stars, and the stars soon gravitated towards each other to form galaxies. Therefore, gravity is not only the thing that keeps humans from floating away, but also the invisible force that created and allows the entire universe to exist. So, what would happen if it suddenly stopped working?

First off, and to put any anxious minds at ease, let’s be clear that the very idea of gravity failing is impossible. Gravity’s not like a star that will one day simply cease to exist. It is here for good. But let’s say, hypothetically, that a switch was turned right now and gravity suddenly ground to a halt. While you may have images in your mind of us all excitedly floating through the air, pulling summersaults like astronauts on the International Space Station, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the failure of gravity would be the most dangerous and destructive thing to have ever, ever occurred.

Let’s start by addressing everyone’s primary question – what would happen to you, specifically? Well, initially you would begin floating like an astronaut, but it’d be far from fun. You’d suddenly lose your footing on Earth’s terra firma, and begin travelling in a straight line directly towards the clouds. There wouldn’t be long to enjoy or despair over the peculiar feeling of weightlessness though, because you’d lose consciousness pretty quickly.

Everything not firmly planted to the ground would also instantly start to float, meaning that the Earth would suddenly omit all kinds of debris into the sky, including billions of animals, insects, planes, trains and automobiles. Things more firmly planted to the ground like trees, mountains, and well-built buildings wouldn’t take off quite so quickly, but everything else would gain momentum and shoot off into the great beyond. But it’s not just animals and objects that would disappear. Without gravity, the very atmosphere of Earth would also break apart, exposing us and everything else to the harsh vacuum of space. And that is definitely not a good thing.

Individually, our bodies are held together by gravity, and without it, our internal organs would go haywire. Due to being exposed to the emptiness of space, we’d also suffer ebullism, when gas bubbles form in our bodily fluids, including in our blood and the membranes of our eyes. All in all, the exceptional pain would be almost instant and literally unbearable. Luckily, we wouldn’t feel too much of it though, because we’d be out cold in about fifteen seconds, thanks to the sudden lack of oxygen.

And if you think holding your breath could grant you a few extra seconds to plan a potentially life-saving strategy, think again. Without expelling the air from your lungs, the oxygen inside would quickly expand and rupture your organs anyway, forcing air bubbles into your heart and brain, and ensuring an equally quick death. Either way, our bodies would fail and everyone would die, through asphyxiation and/or the unprecedented reduction of pressure. Within minutes, maybe even seconds, the planet would be surrounded by billions of floating corpses, and all life on Earth would be unequivocally dead.

Along with the now non-existent atmosphere, Earth’s water would likely briefly boil off and float in globules towards the sky. Every lake, ocean, and river in the world would suddenly start to drift upwards, taking with it every species of marine life. It would certainly be a magnificent event to behold, but it would also leave our planet as a barren and liquid-free wasteland.

But the bigger picture is even bleaker. While losing all life on Earth is obviously tragic, the full extent of the carnage would be unimaginably colossal. We are but a speck on the interstellar map after all.

Our nearest cosmic neighbor, the moon, wouldn’t last long, given that it’d also have nothing to anchor itself to. Our only satellite would randomly divert off toward parts unknown, never to be seen again, leaving Earth entirely isolated in the growing abyss - but only for a brief moment. Because, it’s not as though the Earth itself would last long, either. Our planet, like our bodies, is held together by gravity, from the internal pressures of the core to the precise geology of the crust. If gravity upped and left, the molten metals inside the Earth would quickly force their way to the now-completely desolate surface.

Within minutes, the Earth itself would begin to spectacularly break apart. The ground would crumble and entire sections would break off, eventually leading to the planet scattering into individual pieces drifting through space - disintegrating as they go. Before long, the only proof of our home planet ever existing would be rapidly diminishing, random chunks of unrecognisable rock.

The sun, and every other star in the universe, would soon follow suit. Stars are basically gigantic balls of energy held together by their cores. So, with gravity gone, they, like the Earth, would also lose all structural integrity. The intense pressures put onto a star’s core would build and build before bursting at the seams, resulting in titanic, inconceivable explosions that would reverberate across what’s left of the known universe. It would clearly be an incredible sight to see, but as it would ultimately steal every star from the universe - nothing would survive to see it.

And what of the universe itself? It would become an exceptionally lonely place. With every object in it having exploded, dissolved or been destroyed in some way, leaving just empty, endless darkness. Without gravity, the infinite number of expelled clumps of matter would eventually dwindle down into fundamental atoms, without anything to bind them together, or any hope of creating new galaxies.

Suffice to say, gravity is an immeasurably important, basic building block for creation and the continued existence of absolutely everything. Without it, all life in the universe would quickly die, planets would collapse, and stars would burst into magnificent spectacles of light, before dimming, extinguishing and leaving the universe as a dark and empty void of utter nothingness.

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