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What If?

Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

By Randall Munroe
15-minute read
Audio available
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

In What If? (2014), Randall Munroe presents earnest, thoroughly researched answers to absurd, hypothetical questions in a highly entertaining and digestible format. Munroe serves up the most popular answers from queries he received through his What If? blog, along with a host of new, delightful, mind-bending questions and answers.    

  • Anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical
  • Anyone interested the oddities of math, science, and technology
  • Any fan of Randall Munroe’s webcomic, xkcd

Randall Munroe is a former NASA roboticist and the creator of the hugely popular xkcd webcomic. In 2013, at the request of a number of xkcd enthusiasts, the asteroid 4942 Munroe was named after him by the International Astronomical Union.

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What If?

Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

By Randall Munroe
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Synopsis

In What If? (2014), Randall Munroe presents earnest, thoroughly researched answers to absurd, hypothetical questions in a highly entertaining and digestible format. Munroe serves up the most popular answers from queries he received through his What If? blog, along with a host of new, delightful, mind-bending questions and answers.    

Key idea 1 of 9

If the Sun went out, we would see a variety of benefits in many areas of life.

What would happen to Earth if the Sun suddenly went dark? It’s a haunting thought but, surprisingly, many good things would come from it. Let’s look at a few examples.

One positive consequence would be a reduced risk of solar flares – those abrupt, massive releases of energy on the Sun’s surface. Solar flares pose a high risk for us as they’re often succeeded by geomagnetic storms, which are temporary disruptions of Earth’s magnetic field.

We experienced this in 1859, when a massive solar flare and geomagnetic storm hit Earth. The storm produced powerful currents in telegraph wires, setting fire to them and wiping out communications.

Since 1859, though, we have built countless more wires. If a storm were to strike us today, researchers estimate that the economic damage to the US alone would amount to trillions of dollars.

But, of course, we needn’t fret about this if the sun went out!

A second advantage would be that infrastructure costs would be reduced. Think of bridges – we build them in order to cross water. But if the Sun went out, we could simply drive across the ice. Add to this the estimated $20 billion we spend on repairing US bridges annually and we’d also save on infrastructure!

Third, trade would be cheaper.

If the Sun were no more, darkness would reign, and a land of eternal night has no use for time zones. Time zones make it more complicated to do business when international office hours don’t match up. But without the Sun, we could all exist in one time zone, which would speed up communication, allowing a healthy boost to the global economy.  

But what about the downside? Well, with no Sun, we would all freeze and die. Perhaps we should keep our Sun after all.

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