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Assuming interstellar travel, and self sufficient colonies in other star systems, what are some methods of destroying the Earth while leaving minimal impact on the colonies?

Context

I would like to keep Earth based culture and languages intact, without having to deal with "modern" (modern being relative to the story being told) baggage of maintaining Earth's politics and needs.

In short, I'd like to keep things like English, without forcing the inhabitants of the universe to be concerned with resources on Earth, or protecting Earth, or revisiting Earth, etc etc

What I've Considered:

I think the most probable way to knock off Earth is to wipe out the local Solar system with it. In my limited scientific knowledge, this would probably require knocking out the Sun.

Waiting for the Sun to die naturally could leave too much times for colonies to advance, significantly changing the technology, culture, and a myriad of other things.

Then question then became, how do I make the Sun kick the bucket early? Perhaps collision with another body, perhaps another Star, or planet? What are the repercussions of such a collision?

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    $\begingroup$ Isn't this question complete overkill for the given problem? If you only want to get rid of human politics on Earth, strike it with a powerful comet, ruin its atmosphere or somehow mess up its orbit. Destroying a star is much harder than destroying a planet, which is again much harder than turning the Earth's surface into a hostile environment. $\endgroup$ – Vandroiy Nov 3 '14 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @James Even if the entire solar system was destroyed, people would still want to visit the place. Plus I imagine a lot of them wouldn't believe the story anyway. $\endgroup$ – biziclop Nov 3 '14 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ This very problem came up when Isaac Asimov wanted to link his robot novels to the Foundation/Empire series. In the former, Earth was central; in the latter, it had long since been abandoned and its location forgotten. His solution, as seen in Robots and Empire, was a radioactive doomsday weapon which made the surface of the Earth uninhabitable. $\endgroup$ – Royal Canadian Bandit Nov 3 '14 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ "As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system. And regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you." $\endgroup$ – IQAndreas Nov 4 '14 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ This site suggests several methods for making the Earth go away. $\endgroup$ – Compro01 Nov 4 '14 at 16:31

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I'll take a cue from Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan novels' planet Barrayar. You mentioned interstellar travel but not the means. If you want a series of colonies that preserve modern culture, that would seem to prefer wormhole travel over near light velocities and constant accel/decel, etc. That allows rapid enough travel of culture to minimize isolation.

So you've got a web of wormholes connecting systems that give you a reasonably quick path to most colonies. Earth is in a little cul de sac with a single link to this web. Then one day the wormhole closes. Reasons why are a grab-bag of possibilities.

Or a one-way wormhole, allowing colony expeditions for some span of time, then a sudden collapse of civilization on Earth, and that's it for new colonization.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice one. Even if Earth itself exist, there is no way to get to it. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Nov 4 '14 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ I believe this is also the back story to Eve Online. Colonization "somewhere else" happens through a worm hole, hole collapses, chaos ensues, and soon the remote colonies find that they have to bootstrap civilization largely from scratch. $\endgroup$ – user50849 Nov 4 '14 at 6:20
  • $\begingroup$ It was also the back story to Omnitrend's Universe (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universe_%281983_video_game%29) . $\endgroup$ – Dronz Nov 4 '14 at 20:26
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Near Earth Objects

This will likely be the easiest way to destroy earth, or at least make it uninhabitable, which seems to be your primary aim. It seems pretty likely that, at some near point in the future, we will be hit by something big enough to alter the environment of earth. Many people assume that a sizable impact on earth would make it not so nice for us living on it, including those who survive the initial impact.

Asteroid and Meteor impacts are a big enough threat that people are dedicating real resources to prevent it. Even small celestial objects can cause things like the Tunguska Event, and larger ones can cause dramatic climate changes, which can lead to terrible extinctions.

If you really want overkill, you can use a rogue planet. Those also have the potential to destabilize the orbit enough to make Earth a rogue planet, or send it to the sun.

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For my money you can't beat a swarm of self-replicating nanobots.

This has, of course, been tried once already here on Earth, with only partial success. A molecule got thrown together that happened to have the physical property of being able to create copies of itself. That in itself is already a fairly promising recipe for disaster, and indeed to start with that's what seemed likely to happen: the copies, and the copies of copies, multiplied exponentially, threatening to dismantle the entire world and turn it into more copies. The process stalled when it turned out that these replicators were not endlessly versatile in the types of raw material they could use, so all the immediately available usable stuff got used up, limiting the rate of replication. So, the copies turned on, and attempted to dismantle, each other for raw material. Random variation in the copies led to a situation where the best-equipped copies won and replicated, crowding out the less-well-equipped copies. This led to a de-facto arms race, externally unguided but effective because of the consistency of the selection pressures that determined the winners. It caused the resulting entities to grow more and more sophisticated, and to gain more and more abilities. A few billion generations later, the copies had got so sophisticated that entire colonies of them could move around coherently and exchange information with other colonies. The colonies themselves got progressively more sophisticated, until they were able to invent the internet, and to use it to ask each other how the job of destroying the world could be done more efficiently the second time around.

Sorry if you had different ideas about how we got to this point.

But by examining the mistakes made the first time around, the answer should be clear by now, and it is in two parts. First, design a self-replicating nanobot that's more versatile in the raw material it uses, so its exponentially multiplying copies can effectively eat the whole world without being contained in the bounds of their own ecosystem. Second, don't let them turn on each other: rather, get them to cooperate so that they make way for each other to spread outwards in search of more raw material. (This is where a bit of foresight is required in the design of the communication system.) Stick to this recipe, and we'll have the Earth teeming and homogenized before you know it.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you expand on this a little more, explaining exactly how that would work? $\endgroup$ – DonyorM Nov 4 '14 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ Jez, no offense, but this reads like a great idea (my favorite, really) presented poorly - you describe the grey goo scenario in a sentence, and than give an elaborate paragraph for a joke about how life is can be seen as a ploy to destroy earth... I think this answer can be improved much with some links and an explanation of how this scenario can develop and how serious it can be (for example, you can't land a reclamation crew on a grey goo world - the swarm will consume them and their ship - not to mention there won't be any matter to reclaim!) $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Nov 4 '14 at 18:02
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This method seems a bit extreme... if you want to destroy Earth's politics but keep their culture, there are far easier methods. However, some solutions anyway:

Nova Bombs

In Andromeda, all Commonwealth warships carry Nova Bombs. These are bombs powerful enough to cause a star to nova by negating its own gravity, thus causing a nova due to the pressure and a lack of gravity containing it. According to the wiki, this nova causes an explosion of hydrogen undergoing fusion, which obliterates everything in its path, destroying the entire solar system. There is a theoretical way to do this, using a rotating ceramic disc above powerful electromagnets, although whether it could be done on stellar scale is doubtful.

Scaling down...

Planetary Destruction

There are plenty of fictional weapons capable of destroying entire planets, most notably in the Star Trek series. For example, the Xindi superweapon was a directed energy beam capable of collapsing entire planets. However, my personal favourite idea for destroying planets is a Doomsday device, which would kill all life and render the planet uninhabitable for a few centuries at least, but it leaves the option to re-settle the planet later.

Keeping Culture Alive

If you want to keep Earth's cultures, you need their people. There's no doubt about that. So perhaps you should take a few (say 5) people of each culture you want from Earth to survive the annihilation and come with you. You could even select these people by posing as a human for a few years and running a high-tech selection program on Earth's inhabitants.

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  • $\begingroup$ Negating a star's gravity would reduce fusion, as it rapidly expanded & cooled. It would indeed fly apart, but nothing like a nova. $\endgroup$ – Jerry B Jan 28 '18 at 12:45
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How about that uranium in earths core accumulate to a critical mass, in such a big size such that the earth rips itself apart?

Such feedback-loops of uranium has happened on earth, and there are even serious scientists that propose that the moom was formed by such a rupture.

Natural fission reactor

ArXiv Preprint with theory

In the media

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  • $\begingroup$ Really? Do you have any links to sources for those claims? It seems highly unlikely to say the least. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Nov 3 '14 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ Sure thing! There is a short note on the wikipedia page. It is all based on the article on arxiv (we researchers put stuff there before sending it to journals, so that people have a chance to give comments, and access the research without a paywall). $\endgroup$ – Per Alexandersson Nov 3 '14 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, so the planet is spinning fast enough that you don't need a huge amount more energy to split things and then a large nuclear explosion occurs. It still seems improbable but that's a long way from impossible. However in a modern not-rapidly-spinning earth it doesn't seem like it would be able to do the job? $\endgroup$ – Tim B Nov 3 '14 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ No idea; i did not read the article in detail :). Heard it on a radio program, and thought it could happen in modern times. $\endgroup$ – Per Alexandersson Nov 3 '14 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ This may no longer be possible, because the Earth's only source of Uranium 235 is what was there when the planet formed, and it decays over time (about 99% is already gone). It would have to somehow all be concentrated in one place anyway, of course, but whatever the odds of that are, they're getting smaller-- at some point natural fission reactions will be impossible, whether or not that's already happened. $\endgroup$ – bobtato Nov 4 '14 at 23:10
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How about a plague? A genetically engineered weapon that is impossible to cure or contain could wipe out Earth just as effectively as any larger apocalypse. Everyone on Earth would be dead and the entire planet could be completely quarantined so you don't have to worry about anyone going back. If the weapon was designed to remain dormant in a different reservoir species then it would never be safe to return.

One advantage of this apocalypse are that you don't have to rely on some extremely unlikely astronomical event. Additionally, the genetically engineered weapon could have been created by a small terrorist group, and so you don't need to write in some massive war or anything like that

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Humans have been having a hard enough time keeping themselves from destroying Earth since nuclear weapons were developed. They could fail in the future. If all you need is for the place to become a nuclear wasteland, nuclear weapons will do that.

There could also be some sort of research experiment which does something that starts some sort of reaction that wipes out the planet and makes it uninhabitable. Scientists have been somewhat concerned about accidentally discovering how to do that when they tested the first atomic bomb. Some people were worried about this recently with certain particle accelerator experiments (CERN Large Hadron Collider), though in that case, we were assured by scientists that there was no actual danger.

Some of those independent colonies might do it for political reasons, especially if Earth's government was trying to control all of them, and that could lead to a history of factions and distrust between the colonies.

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    $\begingroup$ FYI: The scientists aren't the ones worried about the accelerator experiments - it's people who know nothing about the research being done who are making a big fuss. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 4 '14 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ Awesome. A good answer overall. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 4 '14 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ Nuclear weapons cannot destroy the Earth. As far as the Earth goes, if all nuclear weapons were detonated togeather, while it would screw up the biosphere and make most of the planet uninhabitable, the Earth as a planet would not be affected at all. It's just a big ball of iron. $\endgroup$ – vsz Nov 4 '14 at 7:12
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz True, but the OP said he wanted no politics, resource struggles, etc. If the planet is there but dead and highly radioactive, there will be no political or even much resource value to it. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Nov 4 '14 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Dronz if we nuke earth as hard as we can, then it still would soon (100 years?) be more habitable than Mars and after a reasonable timeframe (1000-10000 years) it would be more habitable than the most earth-similar planet we're likely to encounter. Radioactive substances are by definition either highly radioactive or long-lasting, but not both at the same time. $\endgroup$ – Peteris Nov 4 '14 at 18:43
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Don't address the question

I like many of the other answers given but the problem with all of them is that they will impact what your world is like outside of Earth. I suggest that you can get away with simply ignoring the question. Just take whatever it is from Earth you want and never even discuss what happened to Earth, why it's not there or whatever. You can get away with a few premise details like this being left unanswered; your audience will not be overly concerned.

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  • $\begingroup$ Level of concern depends entirely on the audience. The average TV audience? Yeah, you can get away with anything. Hard SF fans, Redditors, and Stack Exchange users? Not so much. $\endgroup$ – Jerry B Jan 28 '18 at 12:41
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A black hole (or neutron star)

Now of course that one colliding with the eart/sun would be just too easy. But what about it passing by? Its gravitation will play billiard with the solar systems planets, making them crash into the sun, into each other, leaving the solar system etc.

A gamma ray burst

In the right distance, this will wipe out a whole sectors life out of our galaxy, leaving behind just a big toast ball formely known as earth.

A scientific experiment

about something like FTL travel, or the suns fusion, that horribly went wrong, causing the earth to implode into a black hole, or causing massive disturbances in the fusion reactions of the sun, which then causes massive flares/CMEs, or even ejection of its outer shell, toasting the earth or even removing it from its current orbit.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't agree with the last paragraph. FTL is impossible, we can't disturb the sun's fusion, black holes don't implode, and . . . well, none of those scenarios make sense. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 4 '14 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868: Yeah, but the other answers like nova bombs do? The OP clearly sets this in a technological level more advanced than we are. FTL in the form of the Alcubierre drive seems to be realistic enough for the nasa to spend money on it. This is not physics.SE so imho "implode" is sufficiently accurate enough so that everyone understands what is meant. Sure, we currently can not disturb the suns fusion, but who says that no one finds a way? We already know that metallicity influences a stars fate, when we reach a technological level of (semi)functional alcubierre drives, we might do more $\endgroup$ – PlasmaHH Nov 4 '14 at 16:09
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Let's look at what you want: you want a set of colonies away from Earth, which don't care about Earth and have no influence anymore with Earth.

The easiest solution is just to let your story take place thousands of years after the colonies have been formed. Earth will slowly have turned into this mythical place that the young generation has never heard of. This is a major plot point in Battlestar Galactica and is implied to have happened in Star Wars and Starcraft.

You say you want to keep English though, which does not go well with this. However, barring any major breakthroughs in interplanetary or interstellar travel, it will already take many years for humanity to get to the point that a colony can exist. Languages evolve anyway, so you can have a sort of futuristic version of English.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would be not so sure about the english part. It seems that currently development of various languages slows down. Depending on the speed the colonies can communicate with I can imagine that english becomes some kind of universal language that is second to everyone, with ever colony developing their own dialect, so they can keep communicating with each other (kind of like latin in the middle ages) $\endgroup$ – PlasmaHH Nov 4 '14 at 16:15
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You could always go with the Firefly/Serenity route. Earths natural resources are used up, so the two most advanced countries, the US and China, send colony ships out to a nearby system to start teraforming and colonizing. There is no FTL travel so its a one way trip. Earth becomes a myth of sorts and considered uninhabitable by everyone in the new colonized system. If you do a google search on the 'verse you can find some images of what it could look like, smaller star systems that are part of a larger system. The layout is very similar to Alpha Centauri, with each star having its own planets.

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There is a way without any unlikely physical phenomena.

Suppose Earth created a colony somewhere. It's quite likely that it took most of the Earth's resources to create that colony, and though the mission is a complete success, they are physically cut off from Earth, sending out new colonists or even a supply ship is out of the question.

Maybe it was a penal colony (stroke guinea pig farm) or maybe for a different reason, the inhabitants don't want to remember where they came from. They start a new life there, advancing technology and creating colonies themselves after a couple of hundred/thousand years, while Earth goes into slow decline, eventually losing the ability to even contact the colony.

Of course New Earth will also inevitably fracture politically but it will fracture whichever way you want it.

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Convince other races in the Universe to use the sun as a dumping ground for all their centuries of waste - the growing mass of the sun would require each planet's linear orbital speed to be faster in order to remain stable. Because planets can't just speed up this way, all the planets would start to spiral into the sun, and eventually be consumed one by one

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    $\begingroup$ That would take eons, sending all their waste directly to the planet would be more effective. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 3 '14 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ The time it would take is completely dependent on the amount of waste you could get. Sending all waste directly to the planet would work though. $\endgroup$ – binderbound Nov 13 '14 at 23:16
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A few easy steps to destroying Earth:

  1. Get hold of a fairly massive celestial body. It could be a star, a rogue planet (as PipperChip mentioned), or something completely different.
  2. Put it in a position so that it is orbiting the galaxy at the same rate the solar system does - except much higher up or lower down perpendicular to the galactic plane.
  3. Propel the thing in a direction perpendicular to the galactic plane. Perhaps you could accelerate it using a black hole. (This happens to stars near the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Unfortunately, the supermassive black hole isn't directly above or below the solar system, but we can make do with a smaller one.)
  4. Make sure the thing hits Earth - or passes by it on the side, perturbing it enough to chuck it out of the plane of the solar system.

Alternatively, you could (well, not in our universe) do what Hactar did in Life, the Universe and Everything, the third (but not final) book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy: Create a junction connecting the heart of every star, turning the universe into a supernova. In this case, you could simply connect the Sun to another star, or - even better - the Earth to another star.

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In Charles Stross's Iron Sunrise, one side in an interstellar war is defeated and launches a doomsday weapon at the enemy. This is described as an R-bomb (for "relativistic"), basically a huge bullet launched on such a course that it will hit its target (decades later) at a large fraction of the speed of light. IIRC this is done, at least partly, by slingshotting around stars.

That's an option for any civilisation that can launch large objects reasonably fast, and you can just find the mass and speed numbers that will do whatever you want to do to the Earth. For total destruction, knock a big chunk off the side so the wreckage tumbles and flies apart like a rotten peach hit by a rifle bullet. That'll show my ex who's unreasonable.

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There are limits to how fast one can travel. In order for frequent interstellar travel to be physically possible, the story would have to be set in a region of the galaxy where stars are closer to each other (probably closer to the center of the galaxy).

It would have taken humans several generations to get there. To colonies among a number of stars in that region of the galaxy, Earth would be mostly irrelevant because no human would be able to travel between Earth and the colonies within one lifetime.

One could imagine that before the first humans had left Earth to colonize those systems, we had already detected the presence of terrestrial planets in the habitable zone around most of these starts located closely together. And this was sufficient for some very adventurous people to set off on a multi-generation trip to colonize those planets.

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Enter a pact with all countries, equip all our nukes with rockets, fire them all and start an interstellar-global-thermo-nuclear-war with our sun to accelerate its dying process.

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