Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a cloud of dust in space, usually debris left behind by a comet.
Meteor showers occur regularly throughout the year. They can be predicted with accuracy, as the clouds of dust lie along the Earth’s orbit, and so will be encountered by Earth at the same time every year.
However, if you know one is occurring, you may go to have a look, stand looking at the sky for a few minutes and not see anything at all.
In the north of Sumatra, one of the main islands of Indonesia, lies a serene lake.
Surrounded by mountains and rainforest, filled with animals and dotted with traditional native Sumatran settlements, Lake Toba is calm, peaceful and relaxing.
But this lake has a very dark past.
This lake is actually the caldera of one of Earth’s few supervolcanoes, and is the site of one of the most devastating events in the last 1 million years of Earth’s history.
One day, approximately 75,000 years ago, the world was thrown into chaos as the Toba supervolcano exploded in a cataclysmic eruption, spewing 2800 cubic kilometres of magma into the atmosphere, raining down as ash across the entire planet.
The ash smothered the Earth and reflected sunlight away from the surface, causing a volcanic winter which lasted for between six to ten years.
The sheer immensity of the ash raining down covered all of South Asia in a layer 15 cm thick.
Plants and animals across the planet died in extraordinary numbers. Ash and plummeting temperatures destroyed plants, disrupting the food chain and leading to starvation for all kinds of animals.
Humanity was one of the species to be greatly affected by this eruption.
Never before and never since has an event had such a catastrophic impact upon humanity.
It is thought that the eruption brought the entirety of humanity across the planet down to around 15,000 people.
Humanity as a whole has never suffered through a greater cataclysm. To be alive during this time must have been the closest to a complete apocalypse any human has ever experienced.
It is a wonder to think what people at the time must have thought was happening. No doubt they thought the end of the world was at hand.
Perhaps the various apocalypse myths present across virtually all cultures on Earth had their origins during this event.
It is likely not even a modern global nuclear war would bring the numbers of people down to levels as low as this eruption. A nuclear war would kill billions, but the survivors would number in the millions, perhaps even hundreds of millions.
Genetic evidence today shows that modern humanity is descended from a very small number of breeding pairs from this time.
If the eruption had not occurred, the genetic diversity of modern humanity would be much greater. People today would look very different.
This would have affected all other kinds of animals and plants as well. Life on Earth would be extremely different and much more diverse today if this eruption had not occurred.
The largest volcanic eruption in recent history was the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. This eruption, the largest since the 6th century AD, was so great that 1816 became known as the “year without a summer” as temperatures dropped worldwide.
The Toba supervolcano eruption 75,000 years ago was at least 100 times more powerful than that.
The spectacular eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 is absolutely dwarfed by this supervolcano, with the eruption spewing 10,000 times more material into the atmosphere.
It is thought that 99% of all species to have ever existed on Earth have gone extinct – humanity could have very easily joined that list.
Standing on the edges of Lake Toba today, it is difficult to comprehend the apocalyptic events that have occurred there in the past.
Toba is not extinct, and the future may hold more supervolcanic eruptions.
The course of human history has not always been determined by the actions of humanity. Natural events have also played a role in transforming the civilisations of ancient times into the society we live in today.
Some of these natural events were not from the Earth. History could have been quite different if phenomena witnessed in the sky were understood for what they actually were, and not misinterpreted at the time, as has happened.
The great people of history became great as they were incredibly talented in at least one particular field. These are the people who were in the right place at the right time to exercise their talent in the way that made the most impact upon the world.
Are these people truly on another level above everyone else, or were they just incredibly lucky to be able to maximise their talents in the way that they did?
Google Street View is an amazing tool that allows you to explore vast swathes of the world from the comfort of your own home.
There is a feature of Street View that I don’t believe a lot of people are aware of – the ability to view past street view images. This is a really neat feature that allows you to see just how much things can change over time.