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The Situation

There is a space object heading for earth -- asteroid, rogue planet, what have you. The Smartest People In The World have determined that:

  • it's coming right at us
  • if it hits us, it's the end of the world as we know it (instantaneous extinction event)
  • it's going to hit us

Once scientists have conclusively proven that the space object is The End of All Things, they also calculate when said extinction will occur. The world will end in exactly 512 days.

How do we react?

Clearly we don't have the technology to evacuate the human population to, say, a space ship or another planet. So I would like to know, what technical "solutions" do we have at hand, given today's technology. And by "solutions" I mean: what increasingly desperate things will humanity attempt in the face of certain extinction.

Note that everything we try is going to fail; some things might make it worse. I'm just not sure what we're going to try.

Caveats

  • Our Earth and it's current geopolitical situation. You may assume what you'd like about the resolution of the current US election.
  • No magic, space aliens, supernatural x-files stuff
  • People are still people and we're all human. We're not all going to cooperate and live happily ever after. (We're all dying in 512 days after all.)
  • We are all going to die. The End of All Things cannot be avoided.

Related questions

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closed as primarily opinion-based by JDługosz, Hohmannfan, Durakken, John Dallman, Azuaron Oct 30 '16 at 11:04

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Become mole people. I'm actually only kinda kidding here. Large enough underground shelters ("Vaults", if you will :P) would probably help pockets of humanity ride out the inevitable mass extinction, assuming your asteroid isn't so huge that it would cause the Earth to lose any significant amount of mass (I'm presuming a dinosaur-killer here). The only problem would be making sure the shelter is outside of the projected crater's diameter, but that's really more of a crapshoot and you'll have equally adequate results just building a lot of shelters and rolling the cosmic dice. $\endgroup$ – Z.Schroeder Oct 29 '16 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ What ever we try has to fail. The question is not how we survive: it's how we fail to survive. $\endgroup$ – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Oct 29 '16 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ I just come to realize how a very tiny fraction of my questions were extremely pessimistic, I'm still wondering should I do a reflection over such trivial matter. Maybe I'm just paranoid. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Oct 29 '16 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Roddy That's a problem then, because humans are tenacious bastards. If you want to kill us all off at once, I'd suggest a gamma ray burst rather than an asteroid, but since those travel at the speed of light we'd never see it coming. Other than GRBs, there really isn't any cosmic phenomenon capable of killing us all off unless you plan on smacking the Earth with a comically large asteroid (we're talking a bare minimum of a hundred kilometers wide, about large enough to qualify as a moon or a dwarf planet). $\endgroup$ – Z.Schroeder Oct 29 '16 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ "Attention all personnel. The world is about to end. Please panic immediately. Thank you for your cooperation." $\endgroup$ – EvilSnack Nov 3 '16 at 1:13
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I presume you would see a variety of responses. People react differently. Responses would likely include:

(a) Denial. Some people would refuse to believe that anything bad is about to happen. After all, we've already had hundreds of warnings that the world is going to be destroyed: year 2000, Mayan calendar, predictions of ecological disaster, predictions that global warming would destroy all life, nuclear war, etc. Most such warning have come and gone with nothing noticeable happening at all. Many rational people would say that this, too, is probably a false alarm. And don't say that you'd show them the irrefutable scientific proof: they heard that there was irrefutable proof for all the previous warnings, too.

(b) Despair. People will decide to just get drunk or high until it's all over. The suicide rate will go up. People will lay down on their sofas and stare at the ceiling for days. Etc.

(c) Desperation. (I didn't start out trying to make an alliteration but so far these all start with "D". Hmm.) No matter how impossible you say it is for anyone to survive, people will still try. There will be efforts to destroy or divert the object. People will build underground shelters. Etc.

(d) Religious revival. (Arggh, broke the "D" pattern!) People who are faced with imminent death often suddenly have an interest in God and the afterlife. If everyone is faced with imminent death, I'd expect there to be religious revivals worldwide.

(e) Preserve. Even if it's not possible to save all humanity, it would surely be possible to save a small number. 500-whatever days should be enough time for a crash program to build a ship that could carry at least a handful of people to Mars or wherever so that the human race would have a chance to survive even if 99+% die. Or maybe it's possible to build some sort of shelter on Earth that will preserve at least a few.

(f) Legacy. I expect some people would try to leave behind some sort of legacy. Like try to collect all human knowledge, put it on a space probe and launch it into space. Like Voyager-Plus. Or do something to preserve it through the catastrophe, bury it deep in the ground or whatever.

(g) Carry on. Some will try to get as much joy out of life as they can. People will do things they always wanted to do but never got around to. Marry that guy or girl. Go on that world tour. Write that novel.

(h) Destroy. (There, another "D".) Some will vent their fear and frustration in pointless acts of anger. These will range from graffiti to riots that burn down cities. I suspect enough people would react this way that governments will have a hard time keeping order, especially in the big cities.

I don't know how many people would fall into each group, but I think all of these would be represented.

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  • $\begingroup$ Mayhem is also what im thinking. People will release there inhibitions and break laws. As long as the goverment keeps it under wraps until april 1, they can probably keep everything under control for a another month. $\endgroup$ – Necessity Oct 29 '16 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ He's saying it's an instant extinction event--anything that can take us all out quickly will not leave survivors. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Oct 29 '16 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if governments would attempt to censor this information to try and maintain some control. While at the same time preparing the underground bunker for the leaders. While also at the same time sending Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis into space to deflect the asteroid. In a similar vein as denial, I think there would also be people who hope for a happy ending. These people put their trust in leaders and/or scientists and/or religion to figure out a way to save the world. $\endgroup$ – jomki Oct 29 '16 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ Extremely well thought out answer that offers several ideas / prompts to work off of. Well done $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Oct 30 '16 at 4:43
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Jay has covered the vast majority of people, but not all. Humans have an enormous capacity to overcome adversary (the Ancestors walked around the entire planet during an Ice Age and equipped only with stone and wooden tools, and didn't let little things like Megafauna, super volcanoes, oceans or mile thick glaciers stop them), and there will be some people who will be determined to stop the asteroid, no matter what.

You can see some of this attitude in pilots. Often the last words recorded in a "Black Box" are "Oh S***" when the pilot sees the ground coming at him irrevocably through the windshield. They have done everything humanly possible to save their aircraft, and only death stopped them. Soldiers making "last stands", emergency personnel going into the Twin Towers at 9/11, firemen bing consumed by burning buildings as they search for victims and people dying as they jump into flooded rivers attempting to save another person caught in the flood are all expressions of this "never quit" attitude. In the vast majority of cases, the people committed themselves even when it was apparent the odds were heavily stacked against them.

So somewhere in the world, people have gathered together and pooled all their resources to do something, anything, to stop the danger and survive.

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  • $\begingroup$ That sounds like it's covered by Jay's point Desperation. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 29 '16 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ It might be a desperate act, but I'd say it is determination to prevail against the odds. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 30 '16 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ Sure. I have a hard time believing that it would be absolutely impossible for anyone to survive. Someone would figure out something. But I was trying to go with the premise of the question. $\endgroup$ – Jay Oct 30 '16 at 5:21
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Jay has a lot of good things, I'll add to it the end-timers of various stripes who will see it as an indication they must win their battle against evil before the end.

Also, there will be a lot of people that see no reason to go to work anymore.

Also, I would expect to see a major uptick in high risk activities. You're only risking a year and a half rather than a whole lifetime.

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