It’s easy to wonder what the end of the world might look like. We’ve seen it in countless movies, books and video games, and while it’s nice to pretend, it’s scary to think how close we’ve actually come.
There have been several events within the history of the world, that have come devastatingly close to destroying humanity as we know it, from natural disasters to nuclear war.
Holy shit, these were close!
About 74,000 years ago, humanity was faced with an extinction level event. This ancient super volcano erupted in Indonesia, and leaked 700 cubic miles of magma and shot a large volume of ash across the Indian Ocean, India and the South China sea. The cloud dispersed over 4,350 miles, blocking out the sun and making the atmosphere difficult to breathe.
Genetic research from that time shows that the amount of humans drastically decreased at that time. There could have been other factors involved, but scientists generally agree that a Supervolcano has the potential to wipe us out, if the eruption is large enough.
Back in 1989, two astronomers found this 300-meter space rock heading towards earth. Luckily, it missed. The space rock passed Earth by a margin of 430,000 miles, but had it hurtled towards us 6 hours earlier, the Earth would have been in its way. Had it struck us, it would have been 12 times more powerful than the most powerful nuclear bomb on earth.
A GMO almost took out the world’s plants
A European company developed a genetically modified organism called Klebsiella Planticola to help breakdown plant residue, so that crops could be planted faster. The company was ready to mass market it, until some independent scientists did their own tests and discovered that the bacteria would destroy all plant life. We were this close to a worldwide famine.
I’m not going to include actual photos here, because this disease is insanely terrifying. Going all the way back to Ancient Egypt, this disease has been devastating humanity for millennia. In the 20th century alone, over 500 million people died from Smallpox. Prior to that, it practically wiped out the entire Native American population, taking out 90-95% of the indigenous population in North America.
Luckily, by 1980, the World Health Organization declared the disease eradicated, due to vaccinations.
The Solar Storm of 2012
In 2012, an extreme solar storm hit the Earth. It was the most powerful in 150 years and luckily enough, it didn’t do any damage. Missing the Earth by a week, according to scientists, if we had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, the storm would have devastated our electrical grid and cost over $2 trillion to repair. Imagine the panic and looting.
Cretaceous-Tertiary Mass Extinction
This was the big one, the one that took out all the dinosaurs, ammonites and flowering plants. Frankly, scientists are baffled that anything survived at all, let alone was able to repopulate the earth with plants, animals and eventually humans.
NORAD Microchip Error
In 1980, NORAD issued a warning that the Soviet Union launched a nuclear attack on the US. According to their data, over 220 warheads were headed their way, and Washington was going to be obliterated in minutes. There was a scramble to brief President Carter, and advise him to launch a counter-attack, when the National Security Advisor got a call that it was a false alarm.
A computer chip, costing 46 cents, had malfunctioned, causing a false alarm. Nuclear war over something that cost less than a dollar? That’s terrifying.
The Carrington Event
If you thought we were lucky back in 2012 with the solar flare eruption, we were. There was one that actually did hit the Earth in 1859. Called the Carrington Event, after the amateur astronomer who saw it, the solar flare brought down the Earth’s telegraph equipment, and caused the Northern Lights to be seen as far south as Hawaii and Las Angeles.
The Spanish Flu
Just barely beating out the Black Plague as the deadliest disease in human history, this became a pandemic and killed more people than World War I. Over 20-40 million people were recorded to have died from this disease, but that’s just the ones we knew about.
NORAD’s end of the world message
NORAD has a default emergency communications system that connects to radio and television news outlets in case there was an imminent attack coming from the Soviet Union. In 1971, this warning was triggered and the notification went to all stations to announce that the world was about to end, as the Soviets had launched nukes.
The message made it clear that this wasn’t a drill, and people were getting ready for the end of the world. NORAD had to send out another message saying it was a mistake.
The Shaanxi Earthquake
In 1556, China experienced a deadly earthquake that killed over 830,000 people and was considered the worst earthquake of all time.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
This is one of the best known and easily the most terrifying moments of the Cold War. With the Soviet Union placing warheads in Cuba, the US was scared an attack was coming. After 13 tense days, the Soviet’s “blinked first” and the arms were taken away.
Mount Tambora Volcano
Erupting in 1815, this volcano sent 12 cubic miles of dust, gasses and rock into the atmosphere. It also launched a Tsunami that killed 10,000 people. The resulting ash cloud caused months of colder temperatures, creating crop failure and famine.
Idaho Falls Explosion
In 1961, the US recorded it’s first fatal atomic accident. At a low-level power plant, a control rod was manually removed and a meltdown began. High levels of radiation were detected in the building and luckily enough it was contained. The men who died in the incident, were later buried in lead coffins due to their high levels of radiation exposure.
Fortunately for the rest of the world, lessons were learned and processes were adopted to ensure that all nuclear plants don’t make the same mistake.
The Able Archer 83 Exercise
In 1983, a top secret war game by NATO and the US, was carried out to simulate how an attack on Europe by the Soviets, would lead to a US nuclear strike. The Soviets saw the activity and readied their armaments, thinking that the US was getting ready for war.
It was only after the Cold War ended and documents were declassified that both sides realized how close WWIII was.
The Black Plague
This was one of the most devastating epidemics in human history. Killing over 50 million people from 1346 to 1353 (60% of Europe’s population at the time), this had a devastating effect on Europe’s growth in the centuries to follow.
In 1883, a Mexican astronomer named Jose Bonilla saw 450 objects passing in front of the sun. Thinking it was some sort of beautiful, heavenly display, the reality was much worse. These were the fragments of a comet that passed between us and the Sun, and narrowly missed. One of those fragments would have easily ended us.
NORAD Training Game
Once again, NORAD almost wipes out humanity. This incident happened in 1979, when a technician inserted a training tape into the NORAD computer system, without informing anyone. It simulated a real-life nuclear incident and everyone panicked.
Fortunately, the tensions between the Soviets and the US was relatively low at the time, so there was enough skepticism involved to ensure no buttons were pushed.