From day to day, most of us live in blissful ignorance about the dangers surrounding us. We get up, go to work, come home, spend time with family and friends, and repeat it all over again. Rarely do we think the world could end at any moment. Of course, thankfully, the apocalypse hasn’t happened yet. However, in years past, the world has come incredibly close to ending or at least significantly changing. From interstellar projectiles to microscopic menaces, these are 25 scary world events that could have ended life as we know it.
About 74,000 years ago humanity faced an extinction level event. The Toba Supervolcano erupted in what is now Indonesia spewing roughly 700 cubic miles (2,800 cubic kilometers) of magma. It also dispersed a huge volume of ash across the Indian Ocean, Indian Peninsula and South China Sea over 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers). Genetic research shows that around the same time the eruption occurred, the amount of humans on Earth drastically decreased. As a note, there are some research to suggest that the decline was due to more than just the volcano. But scientists know that eruptions of supervolcanoes could potentially wipe humanity (and other forms of life) of the face of this planet.
In 1989, two astronomers discovered 4581 Asclepius, a 300-meter (.18 mile) space rock hurtling towards Earth. Luckily for us, it was estimated that Asclepius missed us by 430,000 miles when it passed through the exact position Earth stood 6 hours earlier. If it had actually struck the earth, it would have been twelve times more powerful than the most powerful nuclear bomb.
GMO Almost Destroyed All Plants
A genetically modified organism called Klebsiella Planticola was being developed by a European company to put in the soil. The company wanted to mass market the product until a group of independent scientists did their own tests on it. They were horrified to discover the bacteria, if released, would destroy all plant life. It was, of course, never commercialized and the world was saved from wide scale famine.
Traced all the way back to Ancient Egypt, smallpox has been a devastating disease for human civilization. In the 20th century alone, 500 million people died from Smallpox. Before that, it practically wiped out the entire Native American population with 90 to 95 percent of their people dead. Luckily, in 1980, the World Health Organization declared the disease eradicated, all thanks to vaccinations.
Solar Storm of 2012
In 2012, an extreme solar storm, the most powerful in 150 years, almost hit the Earth. Fortunately, it missed us by a week. Scientists stated if we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, it would have devastated our electrical grid and cost upwards of $2 trillion to repair.
Cretaceous-Tertiary Mass Extinction
Millions of years ago during the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction, a comet wiped out the dinosaurs, ammonites, and flowering plants. It’s a miracle anything survived at all and is also one of the greatest mysteries. Why did some animals live and others die?
NORAD Microchip Error
In 1980, NORAD issued a warning that the Soviet Union launched a nuclear attack on the United States. According to their data, 220 warheads had been launched, and Washington could be wiped out in minutes. The national security advisor to Jimmy Carter was going to tell the president to launch a counter-attack when he got a call telling him it was a false alarm and a computer chip, costing forty-six cents, malfunctioned.
The Carrington Event
Remember when we mentioned that solar flare eruption in 2012? Well, one actually hit Earth back in 1859. Called The Carrington Event, named after the amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, the solar flare brought down the Earths telegraph equipment. Dubbed the “Victorian Internet,” the telegraph system back then was still critical for transmitting communications.
In 1556, China experienced a deadly and horrible natural disaster called Shaanxi Earthquake. It killed an estimated 830,000 people and is considered one of the worst earthquakes of all time. While it wasn’t the strongest earthquake, it hit a densely populated area with poorly constructed buildings.
NORAD's End of the World Message
NORAD setup an emergency communication system to radio and television news outlets if there was an imminent attack coming from the Soviet Union. In 1971, they sent out the emergency action notification virtually saying the world was about to end because the Soviet Union launched nukes. The message made clear it wasn’t a drill, so it’s safe to say people working at the news outlets were freaking out. Fortunately, it was a mistake and NORAD sent out future notifications telling them it was an error.
Idaho Falls Explosion
In 1961, the world’s first fatal atomic accident occurred in Idaho when a low-level power plant was destroyed after the manual removal of a control rod. High levels of radiation were detected in the building and one can only imagine what might have happened if it hadn’t been contained. The men who died in the incident were later buried in lead coffins due to the high amounts of radiation exposure.
In 1883, Mexican astronomer Jose Bonilla witnessed something extraordinary. He saw 450 heavenly objects passing across the face of the sun. While it sounds like a beautiful thing to witness, the reality is much more horrifying. Scientists now know what Bonilla saw was a comet that narrowly missed the Earth and could have easily wiped out all life on the planet.
The Able Archer 83 Exercise
In 1983, a top secret war game exercise by NATO and the United States was carried out to simulate how an attack on Europe by the Soviet Union could lead to a U.S. nuclear strike. The Soviets detected their activity and immediately went on high alert, believing the United States was preparing for war. Neither side knew both countries were moments away from starting World War III until the Able Archer program ended.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis is perhaps one of the most well-known and terrifying Cold War events in world history. With Russia parking nuclear missiles in Cuba, America was terrified they were planning an attack. After thirteen stressful days with the world on the precipice of nuclear annihilation, Kruschev “blinked” and announced he would remove the nuclear weapons from Cuba.
Yangtze River Flood
In 1931, the Yangtze River flooded in a heavily Chinese populated area. The flood, directly and indirectly, killed 3.7 million people in a matter of months. Many died from starvation and disease after the flood waters receded.
NORAD Training Game
If you haven’t noticed yet, NORAD is involved in a lot of world ending incidents. One of the scariest was in 1979 when a technician inserted a training tape into the NORAD computer system. It simulated a real-life nuclear event and shocked NORAD personnel. At the time, tensions between the U.S. and Soviets were low, so skepticism saved the day and allowed them to realize the error.
Mount Tambora Volcano
Erupting in 1815, Mount Tambora blasted 12 cubic miles of gases, dust, and rock into the atmosphere. It also launched a tsunami that ended up instantly killing 10,000 people. However, that wasn’t the end. It also clouded most of the Earth, causing months of colder temperatures from North America to Europe, creating crop failure and famine.
The Black Plague
The Black Plague was one of the most devastating epidemics in human history. It killed over 50 million people from 1346 to 1353, which was 60 percent of Europe’s overall population at the time. It had a devastating effect on Europe’s future growth and culture for ages to come.
In 1986, a horrific nuclear power plant meltdown happened in Chernobyl, Ukraine. It released an incredible amount of radioactive material into the environment. In order to contain the destruction and contamination, authorities poured sand and boron over top of the site; then they covered it with a temporary concrete structure called the “sarcophagus.”
Norwegian Rocket Incident
In 1995, Russian radar systems detected a missile heading over their northern border. Believing it was a pre-emptive attack, they sent signals to ready for war. With only 4 minutes left, Russian commanders waited for launch commands. However, once the object fell into the sea, everyone was ordered to stand down. An hour later, Russia learned the rocket was a Norwegian science experiment studying the Northern Lights.
In 1996, Comet Hyakutake passed very close to the Earth. It was one of the closest times a comet has come to the Earth in over 200 years.
The Spanish Flu
Beating out the Black Plague as one of the most deadly diseases in history, the Spanish Flu reached pandemic levels and killed more people than World War I. On record, it killed between 20 to 40 million people.
1983 Soviet Nuclear False Alarm
Much like errors at NORAD, the Soviet Union had their own nuclear close call when in 1983, they received notifications that several American missiles were headed right for them. A man named Stanislav Petrov was on duty at the time and had to make a decision to send the data up the chain of command or ignore it. Feeling something was off, he chose to ignore it, taking a huge risk in the process. Fortunately, he was correct, and his decision helped avert nuclear disaster.
H-Bomb Accidentally Dropped
In 1957, a 42,000-pound H-Bomb, one of the most powerful made at the time, accidentally fell off a bomber over Albuquerque. Fortunately, it landed in an uninhabited area, and no one was injured or killed.
In 2013, a ten-ton meteor streaked across the sky over Russia going 33,000 mph (53,108 kph). The size, weight, and speed of the meteor made it equal in power to a nuclear bomb when it hit the ground. The shock wave blew in more than 1 million square feet of glass and injured 1,100 people.
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