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Astrophysics/Snowball Earth


This is obviously a hypothetical question but it has me curious. Lets say that suddenly 1 day our Sun just disappeared. I know that sounds ridiculous but lets just say for sake of argument it happens.Roughly how long would it take for the Earths surface to entirely freeze over?Would it be a matter of minutes, hours, weeks, years? I imagine at the very least would be 8 minutes since we would keep getting the rays from the previous 8 minutes it took to reach us, but how quickly after that?I understand that the core would still be hot for a long time and that with radiative decay  would keep the inner parts warm but how long before the entire surface turned into a permanent snowball earth?

ANSWER: Entirely freeze over?  Well, you've seen what happens between day and night for yourself.  That should give you an idea.  Depending on where you lived and what temperature it was at the time, the answer is somewhere in the hours-days region.  Equatorial regions?  Days.  Northern/southern lattitudes where it was almost freezing at night?  Hours to a day.

The radiative core would keep areas underground from freezing, but the surface interface to outer space would quickly freeze in comparison.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you, the reason I was thinking about it was because of a movie. The movie, "The day after tomorrow". I know its science fiction and not even the same scenario as my question. However at one point they are in NYC and suddenly as if it is a giant super fast storm, like a frozen tsunami it sped through the city instantly freezing everything it came in contact with. Is that something that could be reality in my hypothetical scenario? Thanks

No.  As serious as the global warming issue will be if it begins releasing methane and CO2 stored in the ground (tipping point), the depth to which water had to freeze alone makes that scenario suitable for Hollywood only.  Powerful natural disasters of that magnitude are reserved for the fluid/solid states, such as tsunamis and earthquakes.  Mind you, polar vortexes can cause powerful surface effects on the ground and feet of snow, but not like in that movie...and the wolves would've perished in a flash-freeze outdoors.  :)


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Dr. Stephen O. Nelson


Fusion, solar flares, cosmic rays, radiation in space, and stellar physics questions. Generally, nuclear-related astrophysics, but I can usually point you in the right direction if it's not nuclear-related or if it's nuclear but not astrophysics.


Just moved from being a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin into government work. Doctoral dissertation was on a reaction in CNO-cycle fusion, worked in gamma-ray astronomy in the space science division of the naval research laboratory in the high-energy space environment branch.

Government work as a physical scientist with a nuclear focus.

Ph.D. in physics, research was on nuclear fusion reactions important in stellar fusion, further work on space telescope technology.

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