Glimpse of apocalypse for STEM visitors

So this is how the world ends; with the sun consuming the Earth in a fiery inferno.

Visitors to the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Carib conference Wednesday got a glimpse of what the death of the planet, some five billion years into the future, will look like.

Visiting astrophysics professor Ed Guinan charted the origins of the universe from the Big Bang to the likely end of the Earth.

Speaking to a room of students and professors at the University College of the Cayman Islands, the professor described how the sun would ultimately develop into a “red giant” and engulf the Earth.

The apocalyptic event would mean the end of life in our solar system, but Mr. Guinan, of Villanova University in Philadelphia, told the audience there is hope for humanity.

“Any species that restricts itself to one planet is not going to last very long. If you’ve got multiple planets, you are covering your bases,” said Mr. Guinan, who believes interstellar space travel will be possible within the next 150 years.

Mr. Guinan, who will outline those concepts further in a second talk at the conference on Thursday, focused largely on the beginnings of the universe in his lecture Wednesday.

He explained how the universe had expanded from the size of an atom following the Big Bang and how the elements found on Earth and in the human body were created by exploding stars.

“We are literally made from star dust. Those stars made it possible for us to be here. If they didn’t exist, we wouldn’t,” he said. Mr. Guinan also spoke about his life as a scientist and being part of the team that deduced that Pluto could no longer be classified as a planet.

“I got a lot of threatening letters … from people about that, saying you’ve killed my favorite planet,” he said.

Mr. Guinan was the opening speaker in a series that will include talks on subjects as diverse as the extinction of dinosaurs and the development of a public water supply in the Cayman Islands. The STEM conference runs through Friday at UCCI.

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