If the sun didn’t rise…

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I’ve never been one of those who set alarms for their mornings to come. I’ve noticed I sleep a greater duration when I force myself awake than when I wake naturally. For many months now, the candidate at the front end, of the queue of stimuli for this natural awakening, was the position of the sun relative to the horizontal. Let me translate that last one for the non-geek: ‘The sun wakes me up.’

The sun is my mother. Actually, my mother is my mother, but bear with me for a few moments. See, without the sun we wouldn’t even be here asking each other questions – thought provoking, no doubt. Thinking is an activity that’s dearest to me and I believe I owe it to the universe to think for it. Billions of years before we even possibly could exist, millions of stars died. They died for us. Those stars, using the process of nuclear fusion, created the building blocks of life – oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, etc. – from hydrogen. As they died, they exploded into non-existence, so that younger stars – like our sun – could be born from their recycled guts. So, let me rephrase that. The universe is my mother, in addition to my mother… and the sun.

So, you see? My day is not really about waking on time and doing my usual chores. It’s not a meaningless preset list of movements that I act out at 24 hour intervals. In reality, it’s much more than that. I take a few moments daily to admire the majesty of the universe. I thank the universe for being in us while we’re in it. I thank the sun for giving me the life I so cherish. My day literally doesn’t start without the sun rising before me. What then would happen if the sun just didn’t rise one day?

For starters, I’d immediately regret phrasing the question like that. How can I even call it a day if the sun didn’t rise? See, even excess-thinkers make mistakes. Of course, my personal slip-ups are the least of our problems; the sun didn’t rise, for the love of the universe! Calm down! Calm down! That didn’t really happen! But let’s just think for a while. What would happen if the sun didn’t rise? Weren’t we asked this very question for our school essays? Shouldn’t be that difficult to whip one up…

‘The first think you’d notice, is that it’s dark out there – you’re the ones who wake before the sun usually rises. There would be panic; sheer bloody panic would ensue. The noise of the crowd would be the one that wakes me up that day, for the sun didn’t rise. I’d do my self morning vocal tests, movement tests, and eye-sight tests without the, now missing, sunlight. The eye-sight tests would inevitably fail and I’d have to do the last thing I’d ever expect to do at 0800 – turn on the lights.

‘I wouldn’t believe my eyes. It’s 8AM and the brightest light I can see is in my room. That fact would be unbearably noticeable. A ten year old me would’ve probably mustered up all the residual faith in a higher power and prayed the hell out that very moment – the hell I was taught about was a cold dark place where nobody could hear you for all eternity. Oh! Yes, the cold. How did I not notice it earlier? It’s going to be far cooler than normal.

‘The cold will hit at a time when we’re least prepared to do anything about it. We’d all curl up in our beds and blankets waiting for it – the nightmare of the unrisen – to end. The following hours would just get cooler and it would be impossible to move. Slight involuntary movements would occasionally open up a crevice into the open, sending a deep chill down your spine. The temperature would drop near-linearly as usual except it would keep dropping. Escaping the horror, by any unlikely yet plausible means, would become more and more impossible. Every hour would be cooler than the last. By the end of what would’ve been a day, we’d all wait for it – our lives – to end. And Oh, it shall! It’ll be a full blown 127 Hours scenario, except there’ll be no rocks or hard places; we’d all die eventually regardless.

‘About half a billion people would start wishing they had paid more attention to the sun god when they had the chance. Of course, the universe goes on mercilessly being what it has always been – incapable of granting the mercy we seek. It doesn’t recognise us as any more special than the chunks of rock in the asteroid belt of a random star system.

‘Plants, trees, vegetation – call them what you want – those tasked with the duty of balancing the proportion of the components of the atmosphere, will begin to selfishly compete for the remaining oxygen to keep themselves alive. Of course, it would take a few hundred years for all of the oxygen to be used up, so never mind that. This would be a good time to note that the greens too never cared about you. They were just living their lives producing their own food with the help of the sun while all you did was eat from their rightful share of the resources. Sadly, the small plants would be the first to die and they’d die from choking – running out of fuel. The larger tress would live longer due to their mass reserves but they’ll really just freeze to death..

‘Life would slowly be wiped out from the face of this planet in a few years. Those of us lucky enough to be in places with enough food supplies and a strong ambience conditioning system will last pretty long but will come to an inevitable sticky end. After all we’ve been through, not one of our accomplishments would’ve mattered. The planet would just be a graveyard full of life that once was. With the breath of the last one alive, we’ll all be forgotten.’

Sad, isn’t it? Of course it is, but not for the reasons you might think. First of all, I’m sorry if that sub-essay sounds like it lacks empathy; it does. But as a child, writing an essay under compulsion, that was the best we could come up with, wasn’t it? The essays we wrote were literally from the perspective of a flat-earth presuppositionalist. We never bothered to get our facts straight then, and now that most of us know the dynamics of the days and the nights (or, at least, have the ability to look it up), not one of us considered revisiting our childhood conundrums. So, here I am presenting to you the physically true nature of events that’ll precede and follow the unrisen sun.

The earth is spinning at the rate of 24 hours per day. So, two corresponding moments in consecutive days are separated by 1440 minutes or 86400 seconds. The mean radius of the earth is 6371 kilometres, which brings its circumference to about 40030km. So, that’s about 1670km every hour or 27.8km every minute or 463 metres every second. Now, that’s a lot of speed.

The ones on the equator are literally moving 463 metres every second. Have we ever stopped to even think about that for a second? A car travelling at 8 metres per second (about 28.8 km per hour) is sufficient to get you fatally injured on impact. The speed of the earth is a speed so high, if the earth came to a sudden halt, you’d face nearly 58 times that impact. You’d die so hard, if you could reincarnate immediately, ensuring that the residual impact is carried forward to be borne by your next lives, you would die immediately again and again for the first 20 lives after that.

See, every material body has this annoying property called mass. And because mass means inertia, every thing with mass is constantly moving at a steady speed around the core of the earth and likes it that way – just a figure of speech; mass can’t like, or can it? A sudden stop in the earth’s rotation would basically just stop the earth from rotating. That’s it! Nothing else. Every thing, that isn’t firmly rooted to the ground, will be flung tangent to the locus of and from their current position on the earth.

Getting flung tangent doesn’t at all mean being thrown into space. From where you’re standing you’ll just move eastward until you slam into something. Let’s assume that being hit at 20 metres per second is the lower limit to be fatally hurt. That means only those at a location with latitude greater than 86 degrees, both north and south, have any chance of survival. That is further narrowed, to between 88.5 degrees and the respective poles if we consider our original (8 metres per second) limit. Practically all human life will go extinct immediately. Every animal in the tropical and temperate zones would go extinct. Only those lucky enough, to have been within one of the two polar havens, would be safe. At first. The cloud of dust, dirt and smoke that results, from the mass destruction, will most certainly choke the life out of the poles soon enough.

However, this won’t really happen as is uniformly all over the earth. The assumption has been that the world just stops rotating for no real reason. A real world scenario will be far worse. It actually shouldn’t matter how worse it gets because we’ll all be dead regardless. But think about it. The meteor that killed off the dinosaurs didn’t actually alter the earth’s rotational speed all that much. Fortunately, a meteor that is actually able to do it, without destroying the planet, can’t exist. We can’t have one without the other. I think it’s safe to say, a sudden stop means total destruction.

There’s, of course, always a second option – the earth is made to slow down so that the sun doesn’t rise. So for the sun to not rise, at a point on the equator, the earth should be systematically slowed down at the moment the sun set the previous day with steady deceleration such that the earth, from where you’re standing doesn’t see the sun rise. To a human, for whom the knowledge of the position of the stars is unconsequential, the most they’d care about is that the sun set at the right time.

Earth has an angular speed of one rotation every 24 hours. We have to effectively bring that down to zero in a half rotation. To do this the deceleration required will be 1.34e-10 rotations per square second (8.42e-10 radians per square second). The earth’s moment of inertia with respect to it’s rotational axis is 9.7e37 kilogramme square metres. Somehow, one would require a constant 8.167e28 newtons of force from the moment the sun sets to the moment the earth stops rotating (actually, rotates only as fast as it revolves). Now all we need is that much force and we’ll be able to pull off a planet-wide prank, wouldn’t we?

Sadly, no. The moment you start your elaborate operation, people will start to notice its effects. The constant deceleration means, at the sea level, everything that isn’t fixed to the ground is going to experience an eastward acceleration of about 5.36 millimetres per square second. That might seem like a small number but to put it in perspective, assuming the earth is a perfect frictionless sphere, a frictionless spherical object will be on the diametrically opposite end of the earth on the circle of the latitude of its original position, by the end of this operation. Things with frictional forces that overcome that acceleration will stay where they are, so your house and your correctly braked cars are safe. Your fortress made out of playing cards, though, not so much. I’m sure children will notice out of the ordinary things like their toys not occupying their right place. Or maybe it’s just me. Every thing that can potentially move would have to be oriented in the north-south direction to minimise the chaos.

Objects that have started to move will keep moving, so those that have been stopped at sufficiently low speeds won’t pose real threats. That which isn’t stopped will snowball until it hits something with all the relative force it has accumulated in the time it moved. Not to be alarming, but the theoretical maximum speed anything can pick up, is at the very end, when an object at the equator essentially moves at the normal rotating linear velocity of the equator which is 463 metres per second. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the earth stops quickly or gradually; there’ll always be something around to kill you at 20 times the speed of death.

Okay! So let’s think what happens to the rest of us, who weren’t splattered by an unorganised horde of random lorries that surprisingly didn’t encounter blockades. Well, the part of the earth in complete darkness would simply be the same as the flat-earth apologist within us speculated in our lovely essay earlier. Those who have the sun stuck at noon will have it the worst. With no nights to take away the heat, the temperature will only increase in the logarithmic fashion. On the bright side (get it?!), you can get out whenever you want and get your desired tan. Vegetation will die out from smothering – both herbs and gigantic trees. Animal life will go extinct soon. The overall atmospheric balance, howeever, will continue to remain more or less the same as the lack of photosynthesis on the dark side is compensated for on the sunny side.

The earth’s tropical and temperate zones will vanish to make room for the hell zone (the sunny side), the okay zone and the cold hell zone(the dark side). The okay zone will be that ring shaped area of the earth where they’re stuck between the pleasant 0500 and 0800, and within the equally nice 1600 to 1900 positions. Let’s hope that, in the series of unlikely events that might lead to the halting of the earth’s rotation, it does so that the okay zone occupies maximum land area to continue life. That would be our one and only chance of survival.

It doesn’t matter what causes the sun not to rise. One way or another we’re done for. We are nothing if it weren’t for our star. I, kind of, understand why someone would worship the sun god – I’m not validating them; they’re still ridiculous. To me, the sun is my final destination. I await the day the remains of my body would be a part of the sun again.

Until that happens, know that if you’re alive and capable of asking yourself the question, the sun did rise…