How to tell a child that the Sun will someday die (Synopsis)

"It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life." -Jean-Luc Picard

The cosmic story common to all of us -- where we came from, how we got here and where we're headed into the future -- is both amazing and daunting. But when we're first exposed to the vastness of it all in terms of both time and space, it can be downright terrifying.

Image credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA), Hubble Space Telescope / ACS. Image credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA), Hubble Space Telescope / ACS.

This is particularly true for young children, who often experience a huge existential crisis when they realize that not only are they going to die, but everyone and everything that ever existed will die, including the Sun. How can we simultaneously give them the scientifically accurate (and level-appropriate) story of the Universe while still being kind and compassionate?

Image credit: ESA, NASA, and L. Calcada (ESO for STScI). Image credit: ESA, NASA, and L. Calcada (ESO for STScI).

Here's my attempt, which I encourage you to share with every curious child you know!

More like this

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” –Joseph Campbell Making up some 85% of the mass in our Universe, dark matter is necessary to explain the motions of individual galaxies, the grouping and clustering of assemblies of galaxies, the large-scale structure of the Universe and more. But…
“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.” -Yousuf Karsh When you find an incredibly huge, dense collection of mass, all together in one place, it generally indicates a galaxy cluster of tremendous size. Image credit: NASA, ESA, G. Tremblay (…
“We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinions, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins.” -George Bernard Shaw And despite all of that, when we pause…
"Through that last dark cloud is a dying star... And when it explodes, it will be reborn. You will bloom... and I will live." -The Fountain I want to start off by letting you all know that I, myself, do not have any children of my own. I have taught children, adolescents and adults for nearly a…

Louis C K youtube: my 7 year old is better than me Hilarious part 9; not for children but the parents,it is funny...

By John Malarkey (not verified) on 14 Apr 2016 #permalink

Since the sun "dying" is 4 BILLION years from now, why would anyone bring up the topic with a child too young to understand the concepts involved. Never mind that the sun is not "alive" or is going to "die." These terms are anthropomorphic nonsense. From a child's viewpoint, the sun is never going to die. OK, 4 billion years is not "never." The kids will learn the difference between the two time scales in high school or college.

No one is going to go into therapy because mommy & daddy didn't explain what 4 billion years is when they were 7.

But don’t forget to recite some other words, as well:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Mat 24:35
Mark 13:31
Luke 21:33

Mythology is fine, as long as it's clearly pointed out that there is no basis in reality for it.

"kid, the Sun's gonna die sure as dibsey doughnut"
"The Sun's gonna die?"
"uggh, yeah but you don't have to worry or anything. Hell your mom and me are going to die before the Sun"
"YOU AND MOMMY GONNA DIE?"
"err, yeah but everything dies Even you, one day"
"I'M GONNNA DIE"?

By chris mannering (not verified) on 15 Apr 2016 #permalink

The sun blowing up is an easy one. If things get crappy here then we'll go find someplace else to live.

The much harder one, even hard for me as an adult to grasp, is human obsolescence. We only have a handful of years left before computers are better than us at everything. Being a better doctor, or teacher, or lawyer, or business leader, or astrophysicist will be as unthinkable in a few decades as the idea that any single person could today beat the google search engine at a trivia contest.

A kid could go to school for 20 years, rack up obscene student debt, and be hopelessly outclassed in intelligence and capability by something downloaded from the internet in an hour.

This isn't something billions of years off. It will happen this century. The sun blowing up? Easy. Pointlessness? Tougher.

"Since the sun “dying” is 4 BILLION years from now, why would anyone bring up the topic with a child too young to understand the concepts involved"

Yeah.

However, what do you do if the CHILD brings it up?