Top 10 Times The World Almost Ended

Written by Mark Sammut

So far, humanity has managed to avoid mass annihilation, but we've had a couple close calls in the past. WatchMojo presents the Top 10 Times Humanity Was Almost Wiped Out! But what harrowing event will take the top spot on our list? The Cuban Missile Crisis, a solor storm almost wiping out all electronic devices on the planet, or a scientific rocket almost starting world war 3? Watch to find out!

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Top 10 Times the World Almost Ended

How are we still standing? Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Times the World Almost Ended.

For this list, we’re looking at a handful of times the World was on the verge of making a huge mistake. Thankfully, the moment passed.

#10: Nuclear War Games


Wait, Matthew Broderick's 1983 film “War Games” was based on reality? In 1979, a NORAD programmer nearly kick-started the next World War by running a simulation that was then detected as a real threat by the same organization. The program envisioned a scenario where the Soviet Union launched 250 missiles towards the United States. The information was passed along to Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security advisor, who planned to take the Soviets down with America. Thankfully, NORAD realized it was a false alarm before a simulation ruined the world.

#9: Spanish Flu


You know that old saying that things can always get worse? Well, here is exhibit A. With World War I's conclusion finally on the horizon, peace was derailed in 1918 by the sudden appearance of a horrifying iteration of influenza, known as the Spanish flu. During a single year, an estimated 50 to 100 MILLION people died from the flu, with scientists having no clue where it came from and why it was so deadly. The war spread the disease around the world, resulting in multiple pandemic waves.. The worst part? The flu mostly killed people in the prime of their lives.

#8: Modified Soil Bacteria Feared To Eliminate Plant Life


From the looks of things, the world might be more likely to end due to incompetence or unexpected side effects than the machinations of some evil genius. Klebsiella planticola was a genetically engineered soil bacteria that was meant to efficiently turn plant waste into ethanol. Instead, after an American scientist named Dr. Elaine Ingham went public with a study published by one of her graduate students, the GMO was flagged as a hazard organism that would eradicate most plant life on the planet. While Dr. Ingham’s stance was later revealed to be unfounded extrapolation without data, this remains a very cautionary tale.

#7: Blown Fuse Causes Nuclear Panic


Here’s another nuclear war scare. The Cold War was an extended staring contest, with countries constantly on edge; and the United States reacted accordingly in 1961 when they lost contact with both their early warning radar station in Greenland and NORAD headquarters. Fearing the worst, troops were set to launch a counter-strike against the Soviet Union. Obviously, World War III never came to pass, since the communication problem was due to a single faulty telecommunications switch that went down in Colorado. Yes, a power outage almost triggered global warfare.

#6: NORAD Computer Almost Starts Nuclear War


Notice a trend? During the Cold War, false alarms were a common and terrifying occurrence. A year after the “War Games” incident, Zbigniew Brzezinski's beauty sleep was once again disrupted by the news that the Soviets had launched 220 missiles towards the United States. Things quickly took a turn for the terrifying when a follow-up phone call confirmed that the figure was actually an error: in reality, 2,200 missiles were launched by the Soviets. But . . . then a third call confirmed that it was all actually all a system error caused by a faulty computer chip. Phew.

#5: The Black Plague

Call it the Bubonic Plague or the Black Death, this disease outbreak brought humanity to its knees. During the 14th century, Europe saw its population reduced by an estimated 30 to 60%. The Black Plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, was transferred to humans from fleas found on rats. (Although some scientists now theorize the culprits were human-hosted fleas and lice.) At the time, populations were vulnerable and recovering from a period of great famine, which, combined with terrible standards of living and a lack of medical science and intervention, ensured that humanity was not able to cope with the unforgiving pandemic.

#4: Bonilla Comet


Back in the 19th century, Jose Bonilla, a Mexican astronomer, witnessed close to 500 rock fragments passing by the face of the sun. His observation was later published in a scientific journal and was largely dismissed, but some modern astronomers believe that these large fragments were the detritus of a much larger comet which had broken up on its trajectory to impact Earth. If these interpretations are correct, a massive comet of around one billion tons barely missed our planet. Now known as the Bonilla Comet, the impact could have seen humans go out in the same way as the dinosaurs.

#3: Solar Storm


No – this has nothing to do with the Mayan calendar. Solar storms are when an eruption happens on the Sun's surface, resulting in a stream of electrical charges being sent towards Earth. They happen often, but July 2012's storm, (known as a coronal mass ejection) was a doozy. Dr. Daniel Baker, of the University of Colorado, analyzed the data from the solar observatory STEREO-A, and determined that the direct impact of this solar storm, which we narrowly avoided, would have resulted in global blackouts. Anything that requires electricity would have been disabled, plunging the modern world into a bygone age.

#2: Science Rocket Nearly Prompts Nuclear Launch


Why does this keep happening? In 1995 – after the end of the Cold War – Norwegian and American scientists launched a four-stage sounding rocket to study the Aurora Borealis. While the Kremlin was notified about the study, nobody knew that the rocket's radar signature was identical to a U.S. sub-launched Trident missile. Russian President Boris Yeltsin was notified, and the nuclear briefcase was prepared to launch a counterattack. If this had been a real attack, the Yeltsin would have had only five minutes before Moscow was hit. Since we are still here, the truth came out on top, but it was a nail-biter.

#1: Cuban Missile Crisis


By the early ‘60s, the United States had mostly dominated the Cold War by installing missile sites in European countries close to the Soviet Union. The balance of power shifted when Fidel Castro took over Cuba and sided with the Soviets, providing a missile launch site just 90 miles from Florida. For 13 days, both countries prepared for a nuclear war, while John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev tried to reach a peaceful solution. Eventually, the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles if the U.S promised to not invade Cuba and also to remove their Jupiter missiles from Turkey. But it was close. Too close.