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I need a completely empty Earth. I need:

  • a natural phenomenon,
  • some local or extraterrestrial disaster,
  • some intentional human action or event,

to turn the entire Earth into second, world-sized Pompeii with:

  • human population reduced to zero (obligatory) and
  • Earth ground burned to the very ground, in ashes (optional).

There are three fundamental conditions:

  1. Whatever comes into your mind or you propose -- be it meteor hit, COVID-19, giant volcano eruption, alien invasion or Earth orbit shift a bit closer (too close) to the Sun, it must be absolutely quick with no option for any surviving party to do anything (like in Pompeii).

  2. Earth must remain as a whole planet, not destroyed, not split, allowing some future alien expedition to land on its surface, somewhere in the future, and examine it (like we do now in Pompeii).

  3. At least some dead bodies and remains of buildings must remain and be able to examined (like in Pompeii).

Some additional information:

  1. Poisonous gases, shifted gravity, high radiation etc. is all as an option, because alien race can survive it, as long as Earth remains possible to be landed and examined.

  2. Whether some non-human live (like plants and animals) are reborn or whether Earth soil remains death for centuries after this cataclysm, is up to you.

  3. The event that lead to apocalypse could happen any time in human history, but I'd prefer today or very-near-future with current level of technology existing on Earth at the moment of its devastation.

Once again, the ability for Earth to remain in one piece is a crucial and fundamental element of this question. From this perspective current question is an exact opposite of this question.

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    $\begingroup$ You could just flood the Earth. This time, don't cheat by telling one wierdo to build an ark. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Aug 25 '20 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ Some people did escape from Pompeii $\endgroup$ – Ángel Aug 25 '20 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Ángel: Most people of Pompeii survived; it is estimated that about 2,000 out of 20,000 people died. The imperial administration allocated funds to aid the survivors. And we even know the names of quite a few of the survivors. (By contrast, we know the names of very few of the victims.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 25 '20 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ The help center teaches that you shouldn't ask questions where you give your own answers. You've kinda done that (you listed a lot of ways to answer your question), which begs the question, what's your question? Why do none of your own answers work for you? What are you asking us to actually do? $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 25 '20 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ Don't write another question. Edit this one and get it reopened. Writing another question similar to this one will get the new one closed as duplicate of this one. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Aug 31 '20 at 6:54
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Radiation:

This may be a duplication. Is it possible to kill all life on Earth? although your question doesn't call for intent. Strange matter wouldn't work https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strangelet , because I'm not 100% convinced it's anything more than a theory, and it wouldn't leave much of a planet afterwards. Supervolcanoes are great, but may leave survivors.

Any really big radiation event will kill all people, and possibly all life. A lot of these will kill living things, but leave all the infrastructure intact. A semi-near supernova is the most popular one, or a gamma ray burst, but my personal favorite is a passing pulsar that bathes the Earth in bands of killing radiation. The nice thing about that is that the diameter of the radioactive death stroke is such that the Earth could die, but other things in the solar system might (at least MIGHT) not be hit and thus survive.

You can mix this theme up a bit. Drag through a lot of the theoretical physics questions here, and many discuss things (sciency stuff) that would result in some kind of massive radioactive discharge - black hole formation/collapse, some kinds of matter manipulations, etc. An alien spaceship could explode in orbit. The sun could have some sort of giant flare event. The new infinite power source built in orbit opens a portal to the core of the sun and then won't shut, burning the Earth like a giant plasma gun until the thing finally melts. The list goes on and on.

If that's not enough broken windows, a massive impactor would cause so much damage that the Earth would be uninhabitable for centuries. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/what-it-would-take-kill-all-life-earth This may leave a VERY small number of survivors unless it's so big it melts the crust - not a lot of buildings and bodies left.

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    $\begingroup$ Strange matter would disassemble the Earth into strange plasma, so it would not fill in the requisite of leaving behind a planet aliens could land on. Otherwise +1. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Aug 25 '20 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ @ Renan Good point, I updated the answer. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Aug 26 '20 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like a great idea, but the question is, if this isn't violating the "sudden death" assumption? Would such supernova building up or a pulsar travelling near-by appear so quickly that would remain undetected by the humanity? Or maybe you're pointing to the fact that it could be detected even years before happening, but still humanity would have nothing to deal with this or to prevent it? $\endgroup$ – trejder Aug 27 '20 at 10:37
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♡♡♡hole aliens

Say some aliens decide to launch von Neumann probes into space. Unfortunately those aliens paid a code monkey to write the software for the probes.

There is a videogame I used to play in the 90's which featured just such a theme:

The Slylandro purchased their first 2418-B: Remote Self-Replicating Robot Explorer Probe from the Melnorme for exploration purposes, with the intent to use it for making peaceful contact with other races. Since it had the ability to replicate itself, they modified its program code so that replication became its overriding first priority.

The repercussions of this foolhardy action were grave. The probes not only attempted to break friendly ships into component pieces for use in replication, but also multiplied at a geometric rate, becoming a severe hazard to any HyperSpace traveler.

Should a self replicating probe programmed like that land on Earth, humanity would be screwed. If the probe is completely organic it may devastate all lifeforms while leaving most human structures relatively intact. Since the probes are not sentient, and don't necessarily contact base, the aliens might not even know they're destroying the Earth. Fast forward some millenia and they might learn of the problem when they finally come here in person.

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    $\begingroup$ Sort of a variation on the grey goo scenario. biological nanites would do about the same thing. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Aug 25 '20 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ Considering how humans tend to treat each other... I suspect we'd view all aliens by that particular adjective (especially if they got to warp drive first, honking Vulcans...). $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 25 '20 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ That's as weird idea as I can imagine (I would even never come with such thing myself, good that I've asked), but it is very interesting in the same time. Certainly I will consider it. I just need a couple of days to finally decide which answer to choose and accept. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – trejder Aug 27 '20 at 10:39
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    $\begingroup$ I have nothing to contribute, except that Star Control 2 was an excellent game :) $\endgroup$ – Fels Aug 27 '20 at 11:50
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A close gamma ray burst aimed directly at earth

Copied from here:

https://www.thoughtco.com/gamma-ray-burst-destroy-life-earth-3072521

What are Gamma-ray Bursts?

Gamma-ray bursts are giant explosions in distant galaxies that send out swarms of powerfully energetic gamma rays. Stars, supernovae and other objects in space radiate away their energy in various forms of light, including visible light, x-rays, gamma rays, radio waves, and neutrinos, to name a few. Gamma-ray bursts focus their energy onto a specific wavelength. As a result, they are some of the most powerful events in the universe, and the explosions that create them are quite bright in visible light, too.

Standing in the Way of the Beam

A nearby gamma-ray burst, beamed directly at Earth, is pretty unlikely. However, if one did occur, the amount of damage would depend on how close the burst is. Assuming one occurs in the Milky Way galaxy, but very far away from our solar system, things might not be too bad. If it happens relatively nearby, then it depends on how much of the beam Earth intersects.

With the gamma-rays beamed directly at Earth, the radiation would destroy a significant portion of our atmosphere, specifically the ozone layer. The photons streaming from the burst would cause chemical reactions leading to photochemical smog. This would further deplete our protection from cosmic rays. Then there are the lethal doses of radiation that surface life would experience. The end result would be mass extinctions of most species of life on our planet.

Note

This is possible, but very very very unlikely :)

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