Space & Innovation

Doomsday Clock Set at 3 Minutes to Midnight

Nuclear threats and climate change pose strong enough threats to prompt scientists to set the Doomsday Clock to three minutes to midnight.

Nuclear threats and climate change pose strong threats to the planet and a symbolic "doomsday" clock will stay at three minutes to midnight, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said on Tuesday.

The clock serves as a metaphor for how close humanity is to destroying the planet, and was most recently moved closer to midnight in 2015.

"It remains the closest it has been over the past 20 years," said Rachel Bronson, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, during a press conference in the US capital.

Photos: Top Doomsday Predictions Gone Bust

Global warming, terrorism, nuclear tensions between the United States and Russia, concerns over North Korean weapons, tensions between Pakistan and India, and cyber threats remain destabilising influences, said Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist and professor at Arizona State University.

The decision not to change the clock since 2015 is "not good news," he told reporters.

Despite some positive news last year, including the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate talks, experts expressed concern that global nuclear arsenals are growing and anti-pollution pledges lack teeth.

Climate Change Moves the Doomsday Clock

"The fight against climate change has barely begun, and it is unclear if the nations of the world are ready to make the many hard choices that will be necessary to stabilise the climate and avert possible environmental disasters," said Krauss.

The decision to move the clock or not is led by the a group of scientists and intellectuals, including 16 Nobel Laureates.

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947. It has changed 18 times since then, ranging from two minutes to midnight in 1953 to 17 minutes before midnight in 1991. The last time it was three minutes to midnight was in 1983, when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its peak.

The Doomsday Clock, a symbolic countdown to the world’s end, stands still at three minutes until midnight, scientists announced Tuesday.

May 19, 2011 --

Time to break out the champagne and party hats because it's that time of year once again: doomsday. Now Judgment Day doesn't always come once a year. In fact, it's often much more frequent than that. But that doesn't mean that all apocalypses are created equal. While waiting for the end of the world, why not take a look at some of the most famous doomsday predictions in history? We'll begin with the most imminent doomsday prediction: May 21. Pastor Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, is convinced that, after decoding passages in the Bible, the Rapture will take place on May 21, 2011, an event ushered in by an unprecedented global earthquake. The world will cease to exist five months later on October 21, 2011. Camping has a small, but dedicated following that feels it is their duty to warn nonbelievers of the impending apocalypse. So they travel around the country with signs, hats, painted buses and reading materials all advertising impending doom. When asked if he had considered what he might do when May 22 rolls around, Camping told NPR: "There is no Plan B." Despite his faith in his convictions, Camping has been wrong before. He first predicted the end of the world in 1994, which he insists was a premature assessment since he had not completed his Bible research.

The Large Hadron Collider is on the cutting edge of physics, and it may help unlock the mysteries of our universe. It has already set records for particle collisions. It has not, however, yet caused the end of the world, as many feared the LHC would when it fired up in September 2009. Doomsayers had alleged that the LHC could create a small black hole that would become a huge black hole that would eat the planet.

When the clock moved from 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, 1999, and struck midnight, all of the computers in the world mistakenly believed that the year 2000 was in fact the year 1900. The stock market fell into chaos, planes fell out of the sky, and nuclear silos launched their missiles. Or at least that's the way it was supposed to happen, according to some doomsayers. It turned out the first year of the new millennium arrived without a hitch -- just like the 1,000 years that preceded it.

In 1555, Nostradamus predicted that the world would come to an end 444 years later -- possibly. Given the cryptic nature of his writings, it's difficult to determine what exactly he thought was going to happen in 1999. Point is: It didn't.

Not all religious predictions of the end of the world are rooted in the Bible. Heaven's Gate, a cult that first appeared in the 1970s and was based out of San Diego, Calif., believed that the end of the world was approaching. Furthermore, they were convinced that the Comet Hale-Bopp was actually being tailed by a UFO upon which they could escape the impending apocalypse. To board the ship, a group of 39 members of Heaven's Gate committed mass suicide in March of 1997. The comet continued its journey through the cosmos and the Earth was left behind in the same shape as always.

What happens when a NASA engineer dabbles in doomsday prophecies? The same thing that happens when anyone else dabbles in doomsday prophecies. Edgar Whisenant, a NASA employee, published a book called "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988," which was a bestseller. In it, Whisenant looked for the same kinds of numerical clues in the Bible that Camping uses to predict his May 21 doomsday. Whisenant's conclusion, however, was that the world was set to end in September 1988. The days came and went, and Whisenant attempted to revise his prediction several times. But unlike Camping, Whisenant appears to have lost credibility after his first doomsday came and went.

In the 1974 bestselller The Jupiter Effect, authors John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann predicted that an alignment of the planets on March 10, 1982, would throw our global climate into chaos. Although the enormous storms and massive change in the speed of Earth's rotation never came to fruition on that day, there was one observed -- and unexpected -- global change that could be associated with the event: High tides on that day were .04 millimeters higher. Similar theories tying planetary alignments to doomsday have cropped up since, the most famous of which was supposed to occur when Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn lined up with the sun and the moon on May 5, 2000.

After Joseph Smith founded Mormonism in the 1820s, he didn't have much time to get his fledgling religion off the ground. After all, years later in 1835 he predicted that the world was set to end within 56 years. Mormons, however, contend that Smith's sermon in 1835 was misinterpreted and was not in fact an end-times prediction, asserting that Smith had previously stated he didn't know the date of the Second Coming.

If you think the party's over after May 21, you'd be wrong. We've got plenty more doomsdays coming up. 2012 is in fact chocked full of doomsday theories, the most famous of which being the prediction attributed to the Mayans that foretells the end of the world to be Dec. 21, 2012. How the Mayan apocalypse will play out is much debated among doomsday believers. Everything from a solar flare to a collision with a mysterious planet has been suggested as a possible end-times scenario.

If you manage to stick around until 2060, then you'll be just in time to see this final doomsday scenario play out. A handwritten scribbling on a note left behind by this famous face predicted as such. And who is this puffy haired maniac who declared the end of the world in 2060? None other than Sir Isaac Newton.