The Doomsday Clock is as ominous as it sounds: a clock first debuted in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for global security issues — the daunting digits first symbolized the chances of an impending nuclear apocalypse. Today, it estimates how close humanity finds itself to the brink of total destruction.
Fortunately, the quarter clock doesn’t move towards midnight, that dreaded hour of death, often, but it definitely has had its fair share of scares. In these tense, white-knuckle moments, the world was one push of a button or wrong word away from disappearing in a mushroom-shaped cloud..
1. In 1952, after the Soviets tested a hydrogen bomb in response to the United States’ destruction of a Pacific Ocean islet with a hydrogen bomb of its own, the clock ticked two minutes to midnight.
2. Four years prior, once President Truman informed the American people that the Soviets successfully detonated their own nuclear device in 1949, the nuclear arms race that ensued moved the clock 3 minutes to midnight.
3. 2015 saw a new and increasingly dangerous reason for the Doomsday Clock to change: climate change. With both nuclear weapons and climate change posing a threat, the clock terrifyingly jumped to 3 minutes until midnight.
4. Then, 2017 saw the clock move to its second scariest position ever: 2-and-a-half minutes. Donald Trump was sworn into office, and people felt the threat of global catastrophe was higher than ever.
5. If two and a half minutes to midnight wasn’t frightening enough, it was bumped up 30 more seconds, making it an even two minutes, in 2018 because of the increasing dangers of climate change and the threat of North Korea.
6. Russia’s Vladimir Putin shocked the world when he threatened to pull out of the Cold War-ending treaty in 2007, wanting to increase his country’s nuclear arms. Now at only five minutes to midnight, the world feared “a second nuclear age.”
7. Fortunately, relations between America and Russia started to quickly improve in 2010, and the progress pushed the clock back to six minutes before midnight.
8. Two years later, in 2012, the clock was yet again pushed forward, now reading 5 minutes to midnight again. The nuclear situation was complex, and it was hard to predict how any nation would handle it.
9. In 1960, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union decreased, and people all over the world breathed a sigh of relief as the clock was actually turned back to seven minutes to midnight.
10. Even better than tensions lessening, the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that ended nuclear testing was signed by both countries, which greatly decreased the chance of nuclear war. The clock was pushed back further, to 12 minutes before midnight.
11. The clock, however, jumped five minutes ahead in 1968 once the United States entered the Vietnam War. As this happened, France and China also developed nuclear weapons, and the Middle East faced complicated political issues.
12. A lot of countries came together in 1968 to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which ensured nuclear weaponry wouldn’t spread to parts of the world that posed serious threats. This reversed the clock to 10 minutes before midnight.