OK, we think the pandemic is bad. Scientists are concerned that we might be headed for another Adams Event, in which our magnetosphere fades away just before the magnetic poles switch and we have a few centuries of environmental collapse. This last happened 42,000 years ago, causing humanity to retreat into caves to avoid being cooked by solar radiation.

This dramatic turning point in Earth’s history—laced with electrical storms, widespread auroras, and cosmic radiation—was triggered by the reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles and changing solar winds.

The researchers dubbed this danger period the ‘Adams Transitional Geomagnetic Event’, or ‘Adams Event’ for short—a tribute to science fiction writer Douglas Adams, who wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that ’42’ was the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

Though the event would be horrible – pretty much the end of normality, maybe the end of civilization – I loved this quote:

Using radiocarbon dating—a technique to date ancient relics or events—the team tracked the changes in radiocarbon levels during the magnetic pole reversal. This data was charted alongside the trees’ annual growth rings, which acts as an accurate, natural timestamp.

The new timescale helped reveal the picture of this dramatic period in Earth’s history. The team were able to reconstruct the chain of environmental and extinction events using climate modelling.

“The more we looked at the data, the more everything pointed to 42,” says Prof. Turney. “It was uncanny.

“Douglas Adams was clearly on to something, after all.”

So as much as we thought 2020 was the worst year ever, the Universe might be saying “Hold my beer…”.