Ask A Scientist

If a solar eclipse happened and lasted 10 years, what would happen?

Asked by: Peter Mutz
School: St. James Middle School
Grade: 7
Teacher: Mrs. Hantsch
Hobbies/Interests: Flying RC airplanes        

Answer from Stanley N. Salthe

Visiting scientist, Binghamton University

Family:  Wife Barbara, two children Becky and Eric   
Interests/hobbies:  Ecology, evolutionary biology, semiotics, systems science, and thermodynamics.  Woodland gardening, nature walks, all of the arts.
Education: Ph.D. from Columbia University  

 

Life is only possible because of energy flows.  We get our own energy from the food we eat. This is a gift from the sun, since the sun is the source of energy for most life as we know it (plants and the animals that eat them, and the animals that eat those animals).  Plants make food for all of us through photosynthesis, a chemical activity using light energy.  Most living things would not survive ten years of solar light deprivation, but some plants might survive as dormant seeds or possibly as large roots.

Some animals, molds and bacteria might survive up to ten years by feeding on the fragments left by others, which have died.  This would only be possible if they were able to stand the cold of an ice age caused by a lack of sunlight.  Those with the best chance at survival would be animals and bacteria that live in the deepest depths of the ocean.  Here there are ecosystems that do not rely solely on sunlight and members of these systems would have a chance of surviving for at least ten years.  These ecosystems use heat energy derived from radioactive decay in the earth’s center, and feed on gases dissolved in the hot water pouring out of hydrothermal vents.  On some ocean floors there are also ecosystems that are based on energy derived from methane seeps. 

Methane (which is natural gas) is also a fossil fuel.

Some people could probably survive ten years by using fossil fuels for energy.  These fuels represent solar energy that became fossilized long ago.  By using fossil fuels to produce electricity, individuals could grow some plants for food under artificial lights.  The manufacture of various nutritional supplements would also be possible under this method.  Since the world would get very cold under these conditions, most fossil fuels would be needed for heat.  It is likely that only a small percentage of the people alive today could survive those ten cold, hungry years.  

 

Last Updated: 9/18/13