Those Brits, they just can’t get enough of their time travel. As if laying claim to H.G. Wells and Doctor Who weren’t enough, the editors at BBC Future have decided to kick off 2014 with a look a bit further ahead than most New Year’s predictions—100 quintillion years further, to be exact.
You won’t find peak oil speculation or when the polar bears will disappear on the resulting Timeline of the Far Future. The earliest charted event arrives 1,000 years from now, when "due to the rapid evolution of languages, no single present-day word will have survived." Other events include Hale-Bopp’s return in 2372 AD and a cheeky reference to the second coming of the Mayan endtimes in 7138.
From there, the timing of events increases exponentially, noting that 250 million years from now, all of the continents will fuse together into a second Pangea. In 20 billion years we could experience The Big Rip, where the expansion of the universe tears all matter into nothingness. As the BBC puts it: "Not good."
It’s a fun read, but an online or video presentation could have really brought the timeline to life. Think Luke Twyman’s "Here is Today," an elegant website that uses animation to put time in perspective, or Powers of Ten, the classic 1977 film that did the same for space.
The graphic’s massive scope forces the designers, IIB Studio, to bend the timeline in order to fit everything onto a reasonably sized plot, and even then the infoposter is unreadable on smaller screens. Sizing the timeline nodes by magnitude is also somewhat arbitrary—why is a super-volcanic eruption more important than "The end of life"—and only adds noise to the visualization, especially as the BBC lumps some events together.
The graphic is most successful when it measures how long it will take for the sands of time to scrub away humanity’s current influence. Barring any more nuclear disasters, Chernobyl will return to normal radiation levels in 20,000 years. The titanium in our computers won’t begin to corrode for another 100 millennia. It’s a sobering thought—that pieces of our laptops will still be lying underground, even as the Earth’s course through the galaxy has replaced today’s night sky with an entirely new set of stars.
Provided we haven’t demolished them, humanity’s most lasting monuments will be creations of stone, such as the Great Pyramid of Giza or Mount Rushmore. "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair," indeed. After that, as Betelgeuse explodes and the sun swells into a red giant, well, that’s when the real fireworks begin.