The world is likely to end in 90 years and civilisation has only a 50%chance of surviving to 2100 without suffering a man-made catastrophic event, the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees will warn at a debate in the finale of 2011 Edinburgh International Science Festival.

According to Scotsman, Rees will join his counterpart, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Professor John Brown, in the discussion "Fire in the Sky: Cosmic Threats to Earth"

Rees believes mankind will face threats not only from self- inflicted problems such as global warming and over-population, but also from al-Qaeda-style terrorist groups obtaining nuclear weapons.

"Al-Oaeda-style terrorists might some day acquire a nuclear weapon. If they did, they would willingly detonate it in a city, killing tens of thousands of along with themselves, and millions would acclaim them as heroes," he said.


But Professor Brown argues that threats are more likely to come from a random event from outer space such as an asteroid falling to earth.

Rees, who based his prediction on analysis of potential threats from modern technology, added that the 21st century also "confronted us with grave new peril".

He cited overpopulation and climate change as areas which while they "may not threaten a sudden world-wide catastrophe are, in aggregate, worrying and challenging".

Meanwhile, Prof Brown said, "The threats Lord Rees and myself will be talking about are dangerous in different ways.

"Asteroids fall to earth on average 10-100 million years apart. It's been 65 million years since the last one, so one could happen next week to 60 million years from now. The probability in our lifetime is very small, making it low risk, high consequence.

"Solar flares, caused by a magnetic storms on the Sun, reach the Earth and can disrupt technology by 'frying' cable lines and knocking out GPS communications systems," said Brown

"Suppose they knocked out a quarter of the world's power supplies - that would create a potential threat to millions of people'" he added.

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