Pre-Halloween presentation will address long-term threats to humanity

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Louise Good, (808) 956-9403
Media Contact, Institute for Astronomy
Dr. Roy Gal, (808) 956-6235
Astronomer & Outreach Specialist, Institute for Astronomy
Posted: Oct 18, 2012

Event poster by Karen Teramura
Event poster by Karen Teramura

In this season of ghosts, goblins and zombies, the UH NASA Astrobiology Institute (UH NAI) and the Institute for Astronomy (IfA) at UH Manoa present, “It’s Not a Zombie Apocalypse: Scientific Views of Threats to Humanity.” This Frontiers of Astronomy Community Event will take place on Tuesday, October 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the Art Building Auditorium. Admission is free, parking on campus costs $6, and costumes are optional.

Axes and machetes might protect us from imaginary zombies, but what about real threats to human existence? They might come from the sky, from natural phenomena on Earth, from human activities, or from some combination thereof. These are real, though not necessarily immediate.

Dr. Karen Meech, an astronomer at the IfA and the head of UH NAI, will speak about the life and death of planet Earth. She takes the long view: “Our Earth is 4.5 billion years old and may live for 12 billion years, but it has not always been hospitable to advanced forms of life. We live in a golden age of mammals that began less than 65 million years ago, but for most of its history Earth has had conditions suitable only for microscopic life. It is likely in that in the future our reign will end, and planet Earth will once again be the home of microbes.”

Larry Denneau, a member of the Pan-STARRS team at IfA, will address the threat from near-Earth objects and asteroid impacts. He says, “Unlike humans, asteroids have been wreaking havoc on the Earth for billions of years.”

Professor Mike Mottl (Oceanography and UH NAI) will talk about the threat from within Earth—volcanism. He says that we don’t know when the next supervolcano will erupt, but when it does, “we will all wish we were someplace else!” In the past, these events have caused major changes in the climate and perhaps even mass extinctions of species.

Professor Rich Gazan (Information and Computer Sciences and UHNAI) will explain how information technology represents a threat: “As information technology encompasses more and more of our lives, and creates ever better simulations, will there come a point where people prefer it to reality? Are we there already?”

Finally, Dr. Steve Freeland (UHNAI) will discuss biological threats. He declares, “The greatest imminent threat to our species’ continued existence comes from within. Exponential growth cannot go unchecked, and we are living on borrowed time.”

This event is co-sponsored by the Friends of IfA.

Founded in 1967, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea. The Institute operates facilities on the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii.  See the website at

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