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Film / Evacuate Earth

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"This is a crazy thing to think about. It seems like science fiction. The end of the world, no going back, we need to escape, we need to evacuate Earth. But it's really impossible to say that it will never happen."
Dr. Caleb Scharf

Evacuate Earth is a 2012 Speculative Documentary aired on the National Geographic Channel. The film discusses the idea of a Homeworld Evacuation, what might necessitate one, and what would be required to pull it off from a technological, logistical, and societal perspective.

These concepts are explored through the story of the Horizon Project, a decades-long effort to build an interstellar Ark and get some of humanity out of the solar system before a rogue neutron star arrives and destroys the Earth in seventy-five years.


Evacuate Earth contains examples of:

  • Aesop Collateral Damage: While it's darkly amusing to see the billionaire lifeboat Savior 1 explode on the launchpad, it's worth remembering that also on board were the scientists and engineers who built it, along with their families.
  • Alliterative Title
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Explicitly averted. Even if we find another Earth-like planet close enough to emigrate to, all it would take is some moderately Weird Weather or hostile chemistry to make it completely uninhabitable to humans.
  • America Saves the Day: While the Horizon Project is an international effort by necessity, it's spearheaded by the USA. Starship City, the central hub, is located in Florida.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The story ends with the Ark's passengers and crew beginning the long task of rebuilding human civilization on Earth 2.
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  • Antimatter: Discussed as a possible fuel source for starships, but ultimately rejected for being too dangerous to store. The billionaire ark ship Savior 1 uses it anyway, with disastrous consequences.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: Cited as a likely threat to an Ark project, both directly (see Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum below) and indirectly (making logistics more difficult).
  • Apocalypse How: Numerous Class 1s in the form of Colony Drops and Solar Flare Disasters as the neutron star approaches, followed by a Class X (and possibly a Class X-2) when it finally arrives.
  • The Ark: The goal of the Horizon Project is to build one.
  • Artistic License – Physics: If a neutron star really entered our solar system, getting ripped apart by its tidal forces would be the least of our worries. Its immense gravity would wreak havoc on the Earth's orbit even from a huge distance, most likely flinging it out of the solar system or into the sun. The film does mention that our orbit might become more elliptical as it approaches, but that's a huge understatement.
  • Artistic License – Space:
    • Neutron stars in real life are blue-white, but the one in the film is fiery red. Presumably this is to contrast with the gentle blue of Earth.
    • Earth 2's original name is Barnard C352. In real life, exoplanets are typically assigned the name of their star plus a letter (so the first planet discovered orbiting Barnard's Star would be Barnard's Star b). This part of the film takes place decades in the future, though, so presumably naming conventions have changed by then.
  • Asteroid Thicket: The shredded remains of the Earth end up orbiting the neutron star as a ring system.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Antimatter is insanely powerful and 100% efficient, but storing it is too dangerous to be worth the payoff and the Horizon Project goes with an Orion Drive instead. The billionaire ark Savior 1 uses it anyway only to explode on the launchpad, killing everyone on board.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Earth and its billions of inhabitants are destroyed, but the Ark makes it out of the solar system with a quarter-million people on board, and the epilogue confirms that they made it to Earth 2. Of course, the destruction of the Earth was never in question; this is the best possible outcome given the situation.
  • Bookends: The film begins with 250,000 people dying in a meteor shower. It ends with the same number escaping aboard The Ark decades later.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: By the time Earth crosses the neutron star's Roche limit and breaks up, everyone left behind is already dead due to radiation and volcanism, leaving the people aboard the Ark the only witnesses.
  • Colony Drop: The first evidence of the neutron star's approach is a hail of bowling-ball sized Flaming Meteors that kill 250,000 people worldwide and obliterate the Taj Mahal for good measure.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: Barnard's Star, which at six light-years away is the second-closest star system to Sol, just happens to have an Earth-like planet that humanity can emigrate to. Of course, "close" in this case means a decades-long journey instead of centuries or millennia.
  • Cool Starship: The Ark, a fifteen-mile long Ring World Planet propelled by an Orion Drive.
    Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi: If we pull it off, the Ark ship is gonna be a wonder unlike anything humans have ever created... the last wonder we'll ever create on Earth.
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster, pictured above, makes it look like asteroids are what destroys the Earth. While meteors are a threat in the film, they're just harbingers for the real apocalyptic event, a rogue neutron star that literally shreds the planet at the end.
  • Dirty Coward: Many of the Earth's wealthy elite pour their resources into a privately-built escape ship for themselves rather than contributing to the Ark project. It ends badly for them.
  • Drone of Dread: The neutron star's Leitmotif consists of these.
  • Earth That Was: Earth gets shredded by the neutron star near the end of the film, killing everyone not aboard the Ark.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The neutron star's official name is E0302, but everyone just calls it "the neutron star".
  • Exact Time to Failure: Seventy-five years and counting...
  • Flaming Meteor: Played straight during the initial Colony Drop events. A number of these can also be seen during the end-of-the-world sequence.
  • Generation Ships: The Ark is one by necessity, since it'll take the better part of a century to reach its destination. By the time it arrives, only a handful of the original passengers are still alive.
  • Gravity Sucks: The neutron star's enormous tidal forces rip apart anything unfortunate enough to lie in its path, which includes the Earth.
  • Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: Direct exposure to a particularly nasty Solar Flare Disaster is said to have been more damaging than ground zero of the Hiroshima bomb.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: It's in the title.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!: Humanity's vulnerability to the whims of the universe is exemplified by the destruction of the Egyptian Pyramids and the Great Wall of China, two of the Ancient Wonders of the World.
  • Made of Explodium: Antimatter is rejected as an interstellar drive for this reason.
  • Mile-Long Ship: The finished Ark is fifteen miles long (not counting the Orion Drive on the back) and two miles wide.
  • Monumental Damage:
    • The Taj Mahal gets taken out by a Flaming Meteor early on.
    • The Cassini space probe is Killed Offscreen while recording the destruction of Saturn.
    • During the final destruction-of-Earth sequence, the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, and the entirety of New York City are shown being torn from their foundations and hurled into the sky.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: Played completely straight. People on Earth as of the 2100s, and aboard the Ark as of the 2190s, dress like people in the 2020s.
  • Orion Drive: The Ark uses this as its main drive. By riding the shockwave of nuclear bombs (one bomb every three seconds, sustained for ten days) it can reach seven percent of lightspeed.
  • Ring World Planet: The Ark is explicitly modeled after an O'Neill Cylinder, with a rotating interior hull that provides Artificial Gravity.
  • Rogue Planet: The reason for the titular evacuation is that a rogue neutron star is headed for the solar system, and its immense gravity will literally tear the Earth to shreds in seventy-five years.
  • Sacrificial Planet: Saturn and its rings get eaten by the neutron star a full five years before the Earth meets the same fate.
  • Shout-Out: Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi calls Earth "the only home we've ever known", echoing Carl Sagan's famous Pale Blue Dot speech.
  • Sigil Spam: The Horizon Project puts its logo on everything, from their safety helmets to their Space Planes.
  • Solar Flare Disaster: Radiation from the neutron star periodically blasts the Earth, killing millions.
  • Solar Sail: Discussed as a possible form of propulsion for the Ark, but ultimately rejected because it would run out of thrust once it left the solar system.
  • Space Plane: A fleet of these (which launch vertically, like the Space Shuttle) are used to board the Ark once it's finished construction. In the epilogue, the same vehicles are used to ferry colonists down to Earth 2.
  • Stock Star Systems: Earth 2 orbits Barnard's Star, six light-years away. It takes the Ark eighty-eight years to get there at seven percent of light speed.
  • Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum: Terrorist attacks, either from Apocalypse Cults or individuals who are just bitter about not being selected to escape aboard the Ark, are cited as a danger to those trying to pull off an evacuation.