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Humanity has just developed a star drive and begun sending their first probes, and have now discovered an unstoppable force of doom approaching to destroy the solar system. Their only option is to escape to another star system, but they don't have the resources or the time to build a fleet that can evacuate Earth before it's destroyed. Instead, they decide to simply move the entire planet.

A star nearly identical to the sun - about 1000 light-years away - is chosen as the target, and a series of drive installations are constructed. The drive can safely teleport Earth, but not all the way to its destination. Instead, it will jump to a point in interstellar space about halfway there, and then the drive will be recharged before jumping the rest of the way. This process will take approximately 5 minutes.

So, what happens in those 5 minutes?

  • The drive teleports the Earth instantaneously and with no perceivable motion.
  • Any change in velocity is made during the jump without applying any acceleration.
  • The Earth will appear exactly in its new orbit after the second jump.
  • The jump field extends about 200km above the surface (anything orbiting inside it also jumps, if it matters).
  • The Moon is left behind.

Everything I've been able to find related to this is some variation of "what if the sun disappeared?", and the answers are always "We would all freeze and die.". I'm pretty sure that the Earth retains heat well enough that 5 minutes without sunlight won't cause a catastrophic temperature drop (But correct me if I'm wrong), so in this case I'm more interested in what effects the sudden disappearance (and reappearance) of the Sun's gravitation pull causes, and what effects losing the Moon has.

PS this is my first question here, tips are welcome!

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    $\begingroup$ You should make a new question with 24 hours instead of 5 minutes. Much more time for shenanigans. $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ Egad! All my carefully-built astrology charts would become useless! $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jul 26 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ Bring the Moon along, please. A lot of things on our planet are invisibly powered by tides and the solar tides are rather weak. Unless you choose a rather weak star and move the Earth closer to it (this is another can of worms because no one really knows how a different light spectrum will work). $\endgroup$
    – fraxinus
    Jul 27 at 6:10
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    $\begingroup$ How much of earth's surroundings travels with us? Are we talking everything within the karman line? The thermosphere or even the exosphere? Leaving the GPS satellites behind would probably have a pretty big impact on global logistics. $\endgroup$
    – MMM
    Jul 27 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ Losing the sun for 5 minutes: no big deal. I would look into "losing the moon" though. That will be a huge problem, maybe over the near term, but definitely over the long run. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Jul 27 at 13:31

8 Answers 8

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Short term effects are pretty much covered in the other answers and are probably nothing of interest.

Then again, a great deal of things to fix later:

  • The night sky will be completely different. Most of the naked-eye-visible stars are closer than 1000ly. Some satellites, some animals and some people will lose orientation. Animals will need a great deal of time to adapt. Some of them will fail. No sat communications, weather forecasts, GPS, etc... for a while. Aviation and marines in really deep trouble. Of course, some of the technology and activities can be prepared in advance, but a lot of everything will fail anyway.
  • Tides. A lot of things on Earth are powered by them, including, but not limited to, aquatic animals lifecycles, ocean water deep mixing, plate tectonics, etc, etc... There are solar tides, but they are like 1/4 of the magnitude. It would be easier to bring the Moon along than deal with everything tide-based.
  • Long term orbital stability. Earth is in an orbital resonance with Mercury and Venus and, to some extent, Mars. Since you managed to move the Earth, you will be probably able to fine-tune its orbit later (subject to budget cuts and political hassle).
  • How much solar activity to expect from the new star? A Carrington event yearly? Or a Maunder minimum? Either of these is quite a hassle.
  • How old and mature is the new solar system? Do we get a meteorite shower out of a sudden?
  • How old and mature are the neighboring stars? We don't want a supernova nearby, do we?
  • Subtle changes in the climate.

p.s. while at it, you may as well fix the calendar. Integer number of days per year, please. 350 is good - the weeks will align favorably.


p.s.2 inspired by the comments:

The knowledge that the year is not exactly 360 days is rather recent anyway.

On the other hand, we want a main sequence star and they have fixed mass/age/luminosity/temperature interdependence. We also want an Earth at most 1C hotter or colder than before so the star mass determines the distance where it is exactly warm enough and thus the orbital period.

The year/day ratio can be changed by changing either

  • the Earth rotation rate (disastrous instantly)
  • the orbital radius and consequently the solar constant (this is the total solar power per area at the particular orbit distance from the star, disastrous for the climate in very short term)
  • the mass + surface temperature + luminosity + spectrum of the star (unknown, but I am sure we don't have this much freedom here either).

Well, the point about the calendar was a joke. The project is hard as hell without bells and whistles.

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    $\begingroup$ What's wrong with having a leap year every four years except on years ending a century that happens to be divisible by 400? $\endgroup$ Jul 27 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ @RobinClower You got it wrong. Anyway, it is not wrong or right. It is what we have right now because this is how Earth rotates. It took us millennia to get it working. We also have leap seconds now and then. Since we are to engineer a brand new orbit - we are in a position to make it simple. $\endgroup$
    – fraxinus
    Jul 27 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @RobinClower Hacky code $\endgroup$ Jul 27 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ I'd vote for 360 days instead of 350, since it's much more easily divisible (by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 24, 30, 40, 45, 60, 72, 90, 120, 180, vs. only 2, 5, 7, 10, 14, 25, 35, 50, 70, 175). There's really nothing special about the number 7. How about we change it to 45 x 8 day weeks? $\endgroup$ Jul 28 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ I favor two day weeks, with the weekends off. $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Jul 28 at 20:20
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Absolutely nothing happens except that it's night for about 5 minutes everywhere on Earth.

It would take several days for the tides to even out.

It would take several months for the foodweb to collapse.

It would take several years for the planet to cool below freezing.

It would take several millennia for all of the oxygen produced by photosynthesis to be used up.

At most you'll see wind patterns change as the temperature diffusion across the planet changes with no day side providing heating. However, in 5 minutes, even this effect is likely to be extremely small.

Think of it in terms of a solar eclipse but on a planetary scale. In fact, 5 minutes is about an average time for a solar eclipse.

Bugs will come out early, birds will think it's night time and go to sleep, animals might bed down, winds shift slightly, etc... But overall, solar eclipses have no real lasting effects, and neither would your scenario.

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    $\begingroup$ There might be a bit of sloshing in the oceans as the tidal forces from both the sun and the moon suddenly disappear. Not enough to cause tsunami, I don’t think, but there might be some odd currents that could wreck unwary ships if the tide reverses direction $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Jul 26 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeScott That wouldn't happen in 5 minutes though. $\endgroup$
    – stix
    Jul 26 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ It would take only a few days for all the plants and the rivers to freeze solid. That would count as a food web collapse in my book. But yes, five minutes of midnight won't do anything much anywhere on Earth. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 26 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP You are incorrect. It would take roughly a month before the average air temperature of the planet dropped below the freezing point of water. After that, it would take some further time for the Earth to give up enough heat for rivers to freeze solid. It would take a year for the ocean surface to freeze solid, and the ice would actually insulate the water below it, slowing further freezing. Ultimately, it'd take millions of years for the planet to freeze solid (including condensing out the atmosphere). The food web collapses long before that due to a lack of photosynthesis. $\endgroup$
    – stix
    Jul 26 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ This answer definitely seems like it could use some justification, particularly for statements like "It would take several months for the foodweb to collapse." By my admittedly loose estimation, it would take more like a week or so, tops, at least where I live. How does much of anything survive once the lakes ice over and never again thaw? Anything that needs to drink water is going to be plumb out of luck.... $\endgroup$
    – Galendo
    Jul 27 at 14:37
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Stix's answer is almost correct, but doesn't take the Earth Tide into account. To summarise, the Sun and Moon cause tides in the "solid" body of the Earth. It isn't rigid - nothing is on that scale - and the surface flexes up and down twice a day. The maximum movement is about 55 centimetres each day at the equator.

The flexing can be ignored for most purposes, but matters for things like the design of large particle accelerators, very precise GPS positions, and long-baseline interferometry. It also occasionally triggers small earthquakes.

The sudden loss of the Sun and Moon's gravity will cause the Earth to start to slump back towards the shape it would "naturally" have without them. This probably won't trigger any major 'quakes, but it's something that has never happened before, so it would be unwise to make strong predictions. It will be worthwhile to make the Earth appear after the second jump with the new star in the same position relative to Earth as the Sun would have been without the jumps, so that the slump gets stopped and Earth moves back towards its customary shape.

The lack of a Moon will make things seem different, though. Is there a plan to send a mission back to fetch it?

Also, most medium- and high-orbit satellites will have been left behind. We'll have lost geosynchronous communications satellites, GPS, and various other things. Launching new ones may take a year or two.

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    $\begingroup$ It wouldn't be a "sudden loss of the Sun's ... gravity." It would take 8.5 minutes for Earth to feel the effects of the Sun disappearing. If the Earth is only spending 5 minutes in interstellar space before finding itself around a star of a similar gravitational pull, it wouldn't even feel the effects while it's in interstellar space. $\endgroup$
    – stix
    Jul 26 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ @stix If the Earth were removed from the Sun's gravitational influence instantly, then it would stop feeling the effects of the Sun's influence just as instantly. Losing its 0.006 m/s^2 influence for 5 minutes means probably nothing to Earth, though. $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Jul 26 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ @BMF your estimate of the Sun's influence is off by three orders of magnitude. The Sun's tidal acceleration on the surface of the Earth is 0.5e-7, or 0.5 micrometers per second squared. $\endgroup$
    – stix
    Jul 26 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ @EthanManess You are incorrect as well. The acceleration is the distance CUBED, not squared when determining the tidal force. It is a = Gm 2*r/d^3 between the two bodies: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidal_force $\endgroup$
    – stix
    Jul 26 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ @stix Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 21:08
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Mostly agree with sentiments so far not a lot will happen, other than the likely earthquake from the loss of tidal forces on tectonic plates. The sizes of the quakes are completely up to the OP, as no one knows when "The Big One" will hit, this might or might not set one ten or none off.

More concerned of placing a planetary body into the orbit of an existing solar ecosystem. Sol came into its present state though Aeons of a violent, truly catastrophic natural-orbital-selection. Now it operates like fine clockwork, most everything that could have went wrong did so billions of years ago. See theories like: Grand tack hypothesis.

Now take another solar system likely in the same state, it's worked out its bugs. And throw our little blue mote of dust into the finely tuned gears of that celestial dance. You may now find yourself out of the frying pan and in the fire. Very little of this mind you would be immediate. But for sure dropping a new gravity well into an established solar system will have it's consequences.

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    $\begingroup$ What the OP should make sure is to insert the earth not only into the habitable zone, but also give it the matching orbital speed. If they avoid asteroid belts, close encounters or resonance with existing planets I would not expect any instabilities that a planet-moving technology could not stabilize. $\endgroup$
    – Bobby J
    Jul 27 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ @BobbyJ I agree with both your comment and this answer - there will be problems in the new planetary system, and it would be a very good idea for the OP to at least mention that the star drives were used to fix things there after Earth's arrival (can't do it before because it's Earth's gravity that causes the problems). $\endgroup$
    – Rob Watts
    Jul 27 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ The Earth isn't a major player in the orbital balance of the Solar System. Assuming no major catastrophes such as dropping the Earth into a resonance with a gas giant, it'll take hundreds of millions of years for any effects to show up. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jul 27 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ There's probably not much stopping these future humans from sending a crew ahead to select a similar planet and using the same tech to remove it from humanity's new solar system, effectively replacing a planet with earth-like mass with earth. $\endgroup$
    – Valthek
    Jul 28 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ Only the OP knows. how much effort the planet teleportation thing costs. Could be a herculean effort taking decades-centuries of construction, and impossible to do in the new system. Could only be possible with a planet with a molten core and a strong magnetic field? Point being if you throw earth into the precisely wrong spot, wether by accident or ignorance you could sling a neighboring planet into another one and BAM you have a Solar system wide Kessler syndrome. $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Jul 28 at 13:48
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5 minutes of night during the day

That's about it. There's nothing really wild about interstellar space that could cause Earth harm. There'd be a fractionally higher exposure to cosmic rays, maybe. Not enough to matter in the span of 5 minutes.

We endure 10-12 hours of night on a daily basis without much worse for wear.

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One thing I can't believe no one's mentioned is the interstellar medium and its likely effects. Everyone's always happy about what the Earth's magnetic field does to protect us from solar winds—no one stops to wonder what it is that the sun's magnetic field is protecting us from.

We're all so caught up on what suddenly isn't there, we aren't considering the big thing that now is.

The interstellar medium has a lot of different regions in it, with phases distinguished by the nature of the small amount of matter it contains—atomic, molecular, and in the worst case ionic. The reason these phases change so much in a relative vacuum is because of the enormous amount of interstellar radiation. True cosmic rays, not the watered-down stuff we get intra-stellarly.

To give you an idea of an approximate scale, the rems per year absorbed by a person traveling through interstellar space has been estimated to be about 70; the safe amount is at most 5-10. This is in a shielded vessel, which is a fairly nebulous concept. Unshielded, there are pockets of interstellar gas reaching hundreds of thousands of rems per second, on account of no stellar magnetic referee. It is the electromagnetic badlands, the radiation wild west. That's not different from the inside of a live fission reactor.

Whether our own planet's magnetic field would provide an adequate front against it over a five minute exposure is difficult to determine, but it's a huge risk. You would definitely see cancer rates rise. If we're in the wrong spot, we might actually not make it the five minutes. Given electrical interference from relativistic ions, you would also most certainly want to have every computer shut down that can be shut down, and would probably see a number of overloaded transformers and fires within that period.

The solar wind is what's batting this stuff back, and when it takes out a satellite or causes a power outage, that's just tough love.

While there's always some handwavium involved (at least until our hands can finally do it), I want to highlight that the relative reference frame of the planet is also important. If you're in the reference frame of the average radiation, your concerns are still significant but relatively minimal; if you're outside of this, you need to consider that the planet could be hammered by relativistic nucleons.

My speculative-fiction side wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing Cherenkov-blue streaks in the sky in some regions, as charge particles slammed into our atmosphere and were forced to slow down due to the relative change in speed-of-light.

So in short, what I am certain of is that cancer rates would spike over the next forty years from the massive amount of unbuffered radiation exposure, we would experience global power outages (something your wormhole might want to take into account), and probably some significant climate change down the line.

There's a neat paper speculating on the subject of relativistic ships crossing the interstellar medium, by Oleg G. Semyonov. You can find it at https://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0610030.pdf . It isn't quite your question, but it's very related. This is excellent story material, so I encourage you to give it a read.

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One thing that is being forgotten is the effect of the solar wind on the Earth's magnetic field. The sudden loss of the pressure of the solar wind on the magnetic field of Earth, and the sudden change to the solar wind of a new star would be considerable. The magnetic field would move and probably damage all sattelites. IDK about electronics on the surface of the Earth.

There would probably be some damage to the electrical infrastructure akin to what would happen during a severe solar flare, but without the aurora caused by the charged particles in the solar wind ( because there is none in interstellar space ).

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    $\begingroup$ Hardly an issue. At low Earth orbit (LEO) the magnetic field of the Earth dominates every other magnetic field, including solar storms (most of the time). $\endgroup$
    – fraxinus
    Jul 27 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ Satellites don't come with and they're all gone anyway when we get back, or now in highly elliptic orbits and on collision courses with Earth. There's an almost unending list of things out of wack once we get back, but five minutes alone unto itself is rather benign. Which is why the un-accepted answer has four times the votes and is boring, while the accepted answer begins jotting down the list of interesting things that happen afterwards, which isn't the (a finitely answerable) question. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jul 28 at 4:50
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    $\begingroup$ It's reasonable to suspect we would see some interference on the ground, the question is how much. CMEs that hit earth have been known to start fires on telegraph machines, the real question is where-in-interstellar-space are we? There are a lot of radiation densities to worry about. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 16:24
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As a supplementary answer, here is an image representation of what would happen, whole Earth at night:

enter image description here high resolution
Composite map of the world assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NPP/news/earth-at-night.html

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    $\begingroup$ Not pictured: The existential angst and arguing over the meaning of what just happened for the next few weeks. $\endgroup$ Jul 28 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ Not everyone will notice though. The people that were already at night side might not notice (and people that are not seeing outside or not seeing at all won't notice), unless they were looking at a clear night sky (vs. light pollution) and notice the sudden change; or if they notice the moon has just disappeared (depending on the moon phase also). However, everyone will know through news/media I guess :) Oh wait, they already know that the earth will be teleported and they are ready for the consequences :) $\endgroup$
    – ermanen
    Jul 28 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @ermanen Everyone will notice. They'll be sitting up waiting for it. It's not a secret plan. Is it? $\endgroup$
    – Jontia
    Jul 28 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ It depends on the details of the scenerio. Public might not know what will happen exactly (like the half jump, and what will happen in the half jump); but they can be ready for the consequences of a big event like this. Also, a lay person might not understand the technical details and many people might not notice the halfway jump, and the ones notice might be just surprised temporarily; as it only takes 5 minutes. $\endgroup$
    – ermanen
    Jul 28 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Jontia Even if it's expected the populace might respond... poorly $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 18:52

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