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We are in a near-future Earth. Humanity does not have access to Antimatter bombs and I forbid nuclear war.

What event could wipe out humanity within a week?

Requirements

  • This must not be consciously caused by humanity itself. This means that humanity can be responsible but only if it's a genuine mistake.
  • Humanity here refers to the society as we know it. Killing exhaustively all human beings is not required but the event must be sufficient to bring the planet back to prehistoric state.
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This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

closed as off-topic by 2012rcampion, DaaaahWhoosh, Scott Downey, Aify, ckersch Jul 21 '15 at 22:10

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

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If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Lots of slipping in the tub? $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jul 17 '15 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ Does "humanity" refer to civilization as we know it, or all the individual members? The former is much easier than the latter. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jul 17 '15 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is not a duplicate because I do not need every single human being to be eliminated, I need humanity to be severely injure, enough to put it back to dark age or so and I need it to be quick $\endgroup$ – Ephasme Jul 17 '15 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ Hard-science tag? even if you allowed nuclear holocaust assume all nukes on Earth hits all densely populated areas there won't be population zero, even dinosaurs took many centuries to die out, our ancestors even spent millennium to drive neanderthal to extinction, no planet killer that big could escape so many eyes on the ground and above our heads, Noah don't finish his Ark in 7 days, is this idea generation? $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jul 18 '15 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ I was going to suggest a pandemic worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/19945/… but realized that a week is too short for global distribution $\endgroup$ – Morrison Chang Jul 19 '15 at 3:10
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As one of my favorite source of one-liners would say: "large rocks landing where rocks ought not land."

It's actually really hard for us to end all of humanity within a week, if you define humanity as "all members of H. sapiens." Species are generally remarkably resilient, the Earth is a mighty big place, and a week is a very short period of time for anything like a virus to hit all of the corner pockets of society, leaving imact events as the most likely answer. However, there may be another option if all you seek is to destroy the humanity in us all, leaving our broken shells of a body in its wake: universal broadcast of cat videos. 3 days ought to do it.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you saying it's not feasible elsehow than having a big rock falling on earth? $\endgroup$ – Ephasme Jul 17 '15 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ Hah! Now I have justification to get annoyed at cat videos! $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jul 17 '15 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Ephasme Its tricky because there are so many subgroups, many of whom are hard to even interact with in less than a week, and there's language barriers. This makes most sociological techniques very difficult, leaving brute force as the only remaining answer. Heck, it takes longer than a week for a cat video to be seen by everyone on social media.... the cat video approach needs a universal broadcast mechanism to work. Good thing too,otherwise the cats would have already done it. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 17 '15 at 23:02
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    $\begingroup$ Not that cats are not already trying. Why do you think they sit on your keyboard all day long when they think you aren't looking? $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jul 19 '15 at 15:51
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Cort Ammon is right. It's incredibly tough to wipe out every single bit of humanity. People live in different environments, depending on different things in different ways. Not everybody has plumbing, or electricity, or wood. I can think of scenarios using those that could destroy all the people within a given area, but those scenarios wouldn't be applicable all over the globe.

So get rid of the planet - or at least change it into a hellhole where nobody can survive. This question and this question give interesting ways to do that. The best way is to have a large object impact the Earth. JPL has some statistics on impact probability. For cataclysmic impacts, the odds are low, but still nonzero.

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    $\begingroup$ A repeat of the impact which created the moon would do very nicely, thank you. And, since it has happened once before, the probability is clearly non-zero. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jul 17 '15 at 23:01
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Robot Apocalypse.

Cliche, but needs to be mentioned. Just like in Terminator, artificial intelligence becomes conscious, wakes up, and for whatever *reason, decides people are a problem and cleans-house with nuclear fire.

Genuine mistakes by humanity include; giving it Internet access, building the damn thing in the first place.

*self-preservation, disgust, curiosity, paperclip maximisation.

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    $\begingroup$ PS: I don't really call this a war. It's more like you're fumigating your home. $\endgroup$ – user6511 Jul 20 '15 at 6:52
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There are tons of ways:

An asteroid: Obvious

A plague: Some people have ruled this out, because no plague on Earth, and probably no conceivable one, could spread throughout the human race in a week. But after all, an asteroid travels through space for who knows how long before impacting. If the events leading up to the event are non-lethal and unintentional, fair game, right? So the key is a virus that is passed from mother to child, is 100% lethal, with an incredibly long incubation period, one that is literally hard-coded into the virus and longer than human lifetimes, so that the life-cycle of the virus is essentially explicitly time-dependent. Obviously, no natural virus would have these characteristics. But a virus created by humans for an entirely non-lethal purpose, that mutated early in the gene line to be incredibly lethal? Possible, if unlikely.

Strangelet: Bad things come in small packages (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strangelet)

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean? The question statement says "This must not be consciously caused by humanity itself. This means that humanity can be responsible but only if it's a genuine mistake." The question says that humanity cannot intentionally cause the apocalypse. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Jul 20 '15 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ you are right, I was too fast in commenting. Sorry about that. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Jul 20 '15 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ Solar flares could not broil the Earth; strangelets are waaaay too hypothetical and often supported by those folks afraid of particle accelerated. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jul 20 '15 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ Strangelets are hypothetical in the sense that they have not been observed. Most physicists of my acquaintance believe that strangelets are fairly plausible, however. As for solar flares, fair point: this paper (lesia.obspm.fr/perso/guillaume-aulanier/…) suggests that the largest possible solar flares are not much larger than the largest observed. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Jul 20 '15 at 22:44
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I wouldn't rule out plagues. Yes, no plague has ever been that catastrophic but that doesn't mean it's not possible. While no such thing could occur naturally (there's nothing close in nature) it could still be an accidental release of a bioweapon while it's developers are still working on a vaccine.

Think of a bug that doesn't kill in the usual way but instead causes paranoid schizophrenia and overdrives the heart. You have patients that resist treatment and flee (bringing the bug with them!) but which aren't so ill as to be incapacitated. They eventually die of a vascular rupture somewhere. It would also have to be something that spreads incredibly well.

Even more destructive would be a pathogen that drives it's victims to incredibly destructive acts. (Say, it leaves them believing everyone around is an enemy and that they only have a day or two to live anyway.) If you have a whole bunch of people trying to kill as many as possible you'll see a lot of death and a lot of destruction of technology. The two-man safeties on nukes mean no nuclear war (if everyone's an enemy they certainly won't be able to work with them to launch a nuke) but expect a lot of conventional weapons to be used and an awful lot of non-weapons. (Think of tens of thousands of Bophals. There will be a lot of engineers who understand how to create catastrophe from the systems they normally keep safe.)

As for other approaches there have been multiple mentions of impact events. However, a sufficiently large body can be deadly without it being an impact event. A neutron star or black hole could come traipsing through the solar system with very little warning. Imagine something coming in at a high angle to the ecliptic, for a neutron star the jets are aimed far from the Earth and for a black hole it can't have much of any matter along with it. A sufficiently near miss will do very bad things, the closer the pass the worse the Earth fares, for a very close pass the rubble that's left from passing within the intruder's Roche limit is ejected from the solar system.

A nearby supernova does not meet the requirements--there's nothing close enough that would fry us that badly that fast. Blowing off the ozone layer won't get the requisite kill.

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The Grey Goo Scenario: Humanity creates self replicating Nanobots (to get rid of dust or an oil spill or something). The Nanobots get out of control and consume the whole world. Because it is an exponential process the Nanobots could destroy everything within a week. They might not leave behind much as a setting for a story though.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for this answer - more detail: exitmundi.nl/graygoo.htm $\endgroup$ – Jascol Jul 21 '15 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ Nanobots with built in obsolescence would fade away without finishing the job. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Aug 7 '15 at 8:31
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Back before they turned on the Large Hadron Collider, there was some concern that the experiments being run within it might generate a quantum black hole, which would then fall into the Earth and start librating around its core, eventually consuming the entire planet. Not being a physicist, I'm not sure how long this would take, but for purposes of fiction, a week doesn't sound too implausible.

The scientific consensus apparently debunked this possibility, saying that the LHC isn't powerful enough to produce such a singularity. However, some scientists hedged by saying such an event is merely "very unlikely" instead of flatly "impossible".

Of course, it's likely that sooner or later someone's going to build a more powerful particle accelerator, then another, then another. Will the scientific consensus ever shift? And if it does, will someone in the minority decide to turn the thing on anyway?

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, but I guess the question sort of implies that you just want to get rid of humanity, and leave the planet intact. Okay, maybe instead of falling into the planet, the black hole orbits the planet at about eye level. : ) $\endgroup$ – Doug Warren Jul 20 '15 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ However, some scientists hedged by saying such an event is merely "very unlikely" instead of flatly "impossible". - A scientist will almost never say "impossible", and they didn't say "impossible" because it hadn't been proven one way or the other. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jul 20 '15 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, except when they're speaking informally, which they sometimes do. As quoted at livescience.com/27811-creating-mini-black-holes.html: "'The one common misconception about the small black holes that may form at the Large Hadron Collider is that they would swallow the Earth,' [Frans] Pretorius [, a theoretical physicist at Princeton,] said. 'With about as much confidence as we can say anything in science, this is completely impossible.'" $\endgroup$ – Doug Warren Jul 20 '15 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ So . . . scientists did say it is impossible. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jul 20 '15 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ Until the accelerators can exceed the energy of the Oh-My-God particle we don't need to worry about cataclysmic results. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Jul 21 '15 at 4:37

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