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Fleeting Wonders: Doomsday Clock Remains At 3 Minutes

This prescient still from the 1928 film Safety Last illustrates our current predicament.

This prescient still from the 1928 film Safety Last illustrates our current predicament. (Image: Harold Lloyd and Wesley Stout/WikiCommons Public Domain)

Ever wondered how close we are to the end of the world? Experts weighed in today, and they say three (metaphorical) minutes. At a press conference this afternoon in Washington, D.C., representatives from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists unveiled the latest version of their Doomsday Clock, which has the Earth holding steady a few ticks from total destruction.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was founded by Manhattan Project veterans in 1945, after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two years later, the group adopted the “Doomsday Clock” in order to sum up and illustrate the various perils of the nuclear age. Every year, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board determines a diagnosis, with the help of the 16 Nobel Laureates on their Board of Sponsors.  

A graph of the Doomsday Clock's panic level, from its inception until last year.

A graph of the Doomsday Clock’s panic level, from its inception until last year. (Image: Fastfission/WikiCommons Public Domain)

The clock’s minute hand moves back and forth depending on exactly how impending the apocalypse seems. In 1991, after global superpowers reached a nuclear resolution, we were a comfortable 17 minutes away. Things have gotten gradually scarier since then, and last year, due to climate change and growing nuclear arsenals, the hand first ticked forward to 11:57.

This year, key factors included climate change, missile-making, and “other existential threats,” said Rachel Bronson, Executive Director of the Bulletin. “In spite of some positive news… nuclear tensions between the US and Russia have grown,” and “tensions between Pakistan and India remain high,” explained Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Board of Sponsors. The clock is stopped for now, but it’s one the world might want to stop winding. 

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.