A truly terrifying list: 19 Horrifying Times the World Almost Ended For Humankind! Sometimes us humans don’t quite realize just how fragile our lives are. In fact, it’s quite shocking how often we come close to wiping ourselves out.
Even today we struggle to deal with potentially catastrophic situations, such as the rapidly warming global temperatures caused by climate change, or the possibility of a second cold war between the United States and North Korea.
Despite this, humanity has prevailed time and time again, despite many setbacks. We’ve lived through wars, plagues, and natural disasters. For the most part, we’ve come out the other side mostly unscathed.
That doesn’t mean we haven’t had our fair share of extremely close calls. History shows us there were plenty of times the end of days has come knocking on our door. So far we’ve been pretty lucky. However, here are 19 times the world almost ended, and probably would have if the situations were slightly different.
NORAD Computer Chip Malfunction
The Cold War lasted from 1945 to 1990 and was a period of time during which it seemed the whole world was on a hair trigger. Of course, nothing exemplifies this more than the numerous nuclear scares that took place when tensions reached its peak.
One of these such nuclear scares took place on June 3rd, 1980. At 3 AM, the president’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brezezinski, received an emergency phone call warning him that a large US-bound nuclear strike was imminent.
Luckily the attack was quickly discovered to be a false alarm and the counterattack was called off before any serious damage was done. It was only a short while later that a culprit was discovered; a single malfunctioning 46 cent computer chip at the pentagon.
The Eruption of Thera
One of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history was the Minoan Eruption. It took place near the Aegean island of Thera, during the mid-second millennium BCE.
The eruption was estimated to have had the destructive force of 40 atomic bombs exploding in unison. Interesting, the eruption was 100 times more powerful than the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that devastated Pompeii in 79 CE.
Needless to say, it became one of the defining catalysts in the demise of the early Bronze Age civilization of the Minoans.
The eruption of Thera obliterated the city of Akrotiri, present-day Santorini, and caused earthquakes and tsunamis that nearly destroyed the surrounding islands, including the widely populated island of Crete.
It also created a massive cloud of volcanic ash that settled across Europe and altered global weather patterns in the years that followed.
The Rise of CFCs
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Advancements in technology was outpacing the understanding of its impact on the earth.
One of the “environmental alarms” that went off came in 1985 when scientists confirmed their fears that a certain type of chemicals widely used in many modern products was ripping a hole in the atmospheric ozone layer. Of course, the Ozone layer is responsible for shielding earth’s surface from the most harmful of the sun’s rays.
These horrifying chemicals were none other than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were found in everything from aerosols to air conditioners.
Luckily, the scientists and governments of the world acted fast and new regulations were put into place that limited or banned the use of CFC. If left unchecked for even a couple more years, it could have permanently altered life on earth for the worse.
Asteroid 2018 GE3
The thought of a giant asteroid crashing into our little planet and sending us the way of the dinosaurs is terrifying. What is even more terrifying is that it nearly became a reality on April 14, 2018.
First noticed by the Catalina Sky Survey, Asteroid 2018 GE3 shot past Earth only a few hours after its detection. At its the closest point, the asteroid was only 192,317 kilometers from Earth, less than half the distance between Earth and the Moon.
With an estimated diameter of 48–110 meters, this asteroid is currently believed to be the largest known object to have past so close to us. There is no doubt that had it made contact with the earth, the devastation would have been astronomical.
The Carrington Event
In the 1800s, many telegraph operators were familiar with telegraph lines going down due to thunderstorms and other electromagnetic disturbances. However, one killer storm took them completely by surprise!
Between August 28th to September 2nd, the earth experienced its wildest geomagnetic storms in recorded history. Communication around the world was wiped out causing numerous electrical failures and accidents.
These storms were discovered to be the cause of a huge solar flare known as a Coronal Mass Ejection or CME. Fortunately, the world bounced back after a couple of days without telegraphs and some weird weather.
Interestingly, if the same geomagnetic storm took place now, our electrically dependent and interconnected society would suffer severe and possibly apocalyptic repercussions.
Reston, Virginia Ebola Crisis
The Ebola virus continues to strike fear into all who hear about it, and with good reason. This highly contagious disease is nearly impossible to contain, and vaccines have been found to have varying levels of success. Unfortunately, those left untreated often wind up dead less than two weeks following the first symptoms.
So far, the worst outbreaks have yet to reach any major population centers. However, that nearly changed in 1989 when a number of macaque monkeys imported from the Philippines to the US were found to have the virus.
The monkeys were sent to Reston, Virginia for lab testing and all of them died suddenly from a suspiciously Ebola-like virus. To make matters worse, blood samples from a number of researchers who had come in contact with the monkeys also tested positive for the virus.
Luckily, after days of panic, it was concluded that the particular strain of Ebola that killed the monkeys didn’t pose any harm to humans. However, the event did illustrate just how easily wide-scale outbreaks could happen, as well as demonstrate just how unprepared we were at the time to deal with such a pandemic.
SAC-NORAD Communications Error
If you were planning a nuclear attack on the United States, the first place you’d probably want to hit would be the agency in charge of overseeing the country’s defense against said attack, as well as responsible for carrying out a nuclear counterattack.
This is what the US Strategic Air Command thought as well when, on the 24th of November in 1961, they found that all communication with NORAD had gone dead. This meant there was no way for them to know ahead of time if a nuclear attack was on its way.
Luckily the final orders were never given, and it was quickly discovered that the communications were down due to a malfunction at a single relay station in Colorado.
The Unstoppable Super Flu
As Jeff Goldblum once said; “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
While Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka wasn’t trying to bring back long extinct reptiles, his studies of the H5N1 bird flu in 2011 certainly raised some serious questions about how far some people are willing to go in the name of science.
By modifying strains of the avian influenza virus, Kawaoka attempted to create a new hybrid strain of the virus that could bypass the human immune system. The scariest part was just how close he had gotten before the study was shut down due to it being a threat to the health of the entire human race.
Kawaoka had managed to create a virus that could be transmitted via the air between test animals held in separate cages and was believed to be only a single mutation away from being so deadly to humans that the body literally had no way to combat it.
The Bonilla Comet
When Mexican astronomer José Bonilla claimed to have observed over 400 dark unidentified flying objects cross in front of the sun while observing sunspots on August 12th, 1883, most of the scientific community wrote it off as a hoax or a high-flying flock of Geese.
At the time, that seemed to be the end of the story. Then, in 2011, a new study into Bonilla’s observations and the pictures he had taken revealed something terrifying.
The dark unidentified objects were not, in fact, a bunch of flying birds at all. As it turns out, they were most likely fragments of a billion-ton comet that passed within 8000 kilometers of Earth, less than the width of Russia!
Genetically Altered Bacteria
The mid-1990s was a time of many scientific advancements around the world. That being said, for every new computer or more eco-friendly car, there was a failure. One such failure could have had astronomical effects on the world, and it came in one of the smallest packages imaginable; bacteria.
Genetically modified bacteria, to be precise. Created by a German biotech company, Klebsiella Planticola was a supposedly helpful microbe that would convert dead plant matter into ethanol, which could then be used in everything from powering our cars to creating drinkable alcohol.
The scientists were quite pleased with the success of their project, and by 1994 they had a working strain of the bacteria that was ready for field testing.
Fortunately, independent testing at Oregon State University found something that the company producing it had somehow missed. They discovered that K. Planticola didn’t wait until plants had died to begin fermenting them, and every plant it was tested on died soon after.
To make things worse, K. Planticola was based on a bacteria present in the decomposition of every type of terrestrial plant on Earth, meaning that it could potentially cause a mass plant extinction that could devastate farms and forests all over the world.
Needless to say, the field tests were called off and all plans to unintentionally create a global plant super plague were put on hold indefinitely.
The Black Death
One of the most devastating global epidemics in history was the Black Death. It was the name of given to a massive outbreak of the bubonic plague that struck in Europe and Asia in the mid 14th century.
Europe had heard of the so-called “Great Pestilence” in the years leading up to its introduction to the western world, however, it didn’t prepare them for what was to come.
The ships were quickly sent out of the harbor, but the damage had already been done. The plague quickly washed over the rest of Europe, wiping out close to a third of its population by the year 1951.
Soviet Nuclear False Alarm
It’s not often that the fate of the entire world rests in the hands of a single person, but that’s exactly the situation that Soviet officer Stanislav Petrov found himself in just after midnight on September 26, 1983.
Petrov’s responsibility was to inform his higher-ups at the first likelihood of an incoming attack, an action that would almost certainly result in the mutually ensured destruction of both the United States and the USSR.
Despite his very clear instructions, as well as the lives of hundreds of millions of people (including his own) resting on his judgment, Petrov decided not to call in the warning.
As it turns out, we can all probably thank Stanislav Petrov that we’re still all alive today. The warning, as it turned out, had actually just been a system malfunction, caused by are rare solar alignment messing with the Soviet radar satellite that had transmitted the false alarm.
2012 Coronal Mass Ejection
Remember how we said that the Carrington Event would have been catastrophic in today’s technology-dependent world? Because that’s almost exactly what happened in 2012. On July 23rd, a huge Coronal Mass Ejection easily as powerful as the 1859 solar superstorm came speeding in Earth’s direction.
Luckily for us, it missed, but only barely. The ejection passed Earth by less than a week, and many scientists and economists estimate that the cost of damages had it hit Earth could have exceeded 2 trillion dollars and taken decades of recovery time.
Cuban Missile Crisis
Often cited as the single most intense 13 days of the cold war, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was a nearly two-week-long period of time during which a single misstep could have sent the entire world into nuclear war.
This action violated a previous agreement between the two nuclear superpowers, and over the next couple of days the situation ramped up exponentially.
After days of tense negotiation and a number of dangerously close calls to all out war, the lengthy stalemate was brought to an end. President John Kennedy and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev were able to strike a last-second deal.
The Training Tape Accident
On November 9th, 1979, operators at the US Missile Warning Command Center were shocked when they found themselves faced down with the warning that a full-scale nuclear attack was inbound from the USSR.
Immediately, the country went into high alert. Every organization from NORAD to the Strategic Air Command received the warning and began preparations to stop the incoming missiles.
Within minutes, nuclear bomb crews were sent to their planes, at least 10 fighter-interceptor planes were launched, and even the president‘s own air command took to the sky. Interestingly, in the panic, the plane took off without president Carter! He was still on the ground!
Luckily, it was quickly discovered that the alert had actually been caused by a training tape that was mistakenly inserted into the NORAD mainframe, which broadcast it to every missile command center in North America.
The Spanish Flu is widely considered to be one of, if not the worst, global epidemics to strike the human race. Starting around January of 1918, the disease quickly swept across the world, infecting over a third of the world’s population in just over a year. In a matter of months, the virus had caused the average life expectancy of Americans to drop by 12 years.
Aided by the first World War, the flu spread quickly across Europe. Fueled by close contact and unsanitary conditions, entire troops were taken down by it.
The flu was not limited to Europe and spread with vicious intent. When the pandemic had subsided, cases of the Spanish flu had been found even on isolated islands in the Arctic and South Pacific.
Mount Tambora Eruption
The volcanic mountain Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia has had a number of volcanic episodes. Hoevrt, one of the most powerful and devastating was the eruption of April 5th, 1815.
The sediment released into the atmosphere by the volcano clouded most of the earth, causing months of colder temperatures from North America to Europe. The ensuing famine caused over 80,000 people to die, and it earned 1816 the title of “the year without a summer.”
Norwegian Rocket Incident
When Russian radar systems detected a missile heading over their northern border in 1995, their first thought was that the United States had sent a preemptive nuclear attack. With no time to lose, they quickly sounded the high alert and prepared for war. Russian commanders waited with bated breath for the launch commands.
Luckily, before the order could be given, Russian observers watched the presumed missile drop harmlessly into the Arctic Ocean.To date, the incident has been the only time that the Russians had brought out the so-called “nuclear briefcase.”
The device that in the hands of the Russian president can send the command to send thousands of nuclear missiles towards their enemy. An hour later, Russia learned the rocket was launched by a team of American and Norwegian scientists as part of an experiment studying the Northern Lights.
President Boris Yeltsin later commented that this was the closest Russia had ever been to staging an attack the United States.
Marine Isotope Stage 6
Around 195,000 to 123,000 years ago, the earth was nearly wiped by a catastrophic natural phenomenon. Known as the Marine Isotope Stage 6, the global climate experienced extreme temperature fluctuations including severe cold and unbearable heat. Areas with a growing population including Africa were hit with deadly climate changes.