Top 10 Events That Could Have Ended The World

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Top 10 Events That Could Have Ended The World

VOICE OVER: Callum Janes WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Armageddon is closer than we think. For this list, we'll be looking at historical events that could have had a devastating impact on the world and its inhabitants but thankfully did not. Our countdown includes Chernobyl, The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Bonilla Comet, and more!
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Top 10 Events That Could’ve Ended the World


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Events That Could’ve Ended the World.

For this list, we’ll be looking at historical events that could have had a devastating impact on the world and its inhabitants but thankfully did not.

Which of these stories do you find the most shocking? Let us know in the comments below!

#10: Chernobyl

1986

If it wasn’t for the quick thinking and incredible heroism of the response team, who knows what could have happened with Chernobyl. In the early morning of April 26, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded and sent fatal amounts of radiation hurling into the atmosphere. The USSR and Eastern Europe were hit by dangerous radioactive fallout, and the immediate surrounding area became uninhabitable. Nearby cities were completely evacuated, and a massive effort involving over half a million people and the equivalent of $68 billion worth of clean-up was immediately launched. The reactor is currently enclosed within the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement, and cleaning efforts continue to this day. This was the workplace accident to end all workplace accidents.

#9: 4581 Asclepius

1989

Turns out the ‘80s wanted to kill us all. An asteroid known as 4581 Asclepius was discovered by astronomers Henry Holt and Norman Thomas on March 31, 1989. They also discovered that the asteroid had nearly hit us. Just over a week earlier, Asclepius came within just 425,000 miles of Earth. Unfortunately, detecting approaching asteroids is very difficult, and this one managed to sneak by the late ‘80s detecting systems. In the words of Holt, “On the cosmic scale of things, that was a close call.” If Asclepius did manage to slam into Earth, its damage would be the equivalent of a 600 megaton atom bomb. To put that into perspective, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima released just 15 kilotons of energy.

#8: Igniting the Atmosphere

1945

Everyone was desperate to end World War II, resulting in the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb. There were a few problems with this. For one thing, some calculations posited a horrifying reality: that the bomb could quite literally ignite the atmosphere and destroy life on Earth through something called “runaway fusion.” Retests and further studies proved that this was probably impossible, but the threat nevertheless remained. And the worst part of all? No one but the scientists knew about this world-ending possibility. They and the military officials went through with the tests knowing that, no matter how small, there was a possibility that their bomb could destory the world.

#7: Solar Flare

2012

The world was supposed to end in 2012. Maybe this is what they meant. In July of that year, the sun experienced a massive solar storm. It was the most powerful storm in over a century, and it emitted something called a coronal mass ejection. Known as a CME, this is essentially an enormous beam of magnetized plasma. The sun fired a CME directly into Earth’s orbit on July 23, 2012, but Earth had luckily passed that exact area of space just one week earlier. If Earth had been hit, we would’ve experienced a catastrophic blackout and been sent back to the Dark Ages. By some estimates, it would have taken years and approximately $2 trillion to fix the damage.

#6: The Bonilla Comet

1883

On August 12, 1883, Mexican astronomer José Bonilla saw something strange while observing the sun. According to him, hundreds of dark objects began crossing in front of the star, and he managed to take a few photographs. Unfortunately, these mystery objects were hand-waved away by the astronomy community as mere birds. But were they? In 2011, the National Autonomous University of Mexico theorized that the objects may have been fragments of a comet. They estimate that over 3,000 fragments passed by Earth over two days, some of which came within just 400 miles. Astronomer Hector Manterola theorizes that if these fragments had hit Earth, it would have resulted in an extinction level event. And they thought it was just geese…

#5: The Chicxulub Impact

≈ 66,000,000 BCE

This asteroid had the power to destroy the dinosaurs. If we were on Earth back then, it would have easily wiped us out, too. As everyone knows, an asteroid slammed into Earth sixty-six million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. The massive asteroid struck off modern-day Mexico with the force upwards of 900 billion atomic bombs. Yes, 900 billion. The impact changed the very climate of Earth, with its resulting nuclear winter causing three-quarters of all life to go extinct. This only proves the tenuous nature of life. At any time, a giant asteroid can destroy us all with the force of 900 billion Hiroshimas.

#4: The Windscale Fire

1957

The Windscale disaster is England’s Chernobyl. On October 10, 1957, a fire broke out in England’s Windscale facility, releasing large amounts of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere. The fire burned for three whole days and dispersed large amounts of the cancer-causing iodine-131 throughout the United Kingdom. Like Chernobyl, this event was significantly covered up and downplayed by the British government. Some things never change. Windscale was considered the worst nuclear disaster in history at the time and directly caused hundreds of cancer deaths. Luckily, the fire was extinguished before it spread even more harmful radioactivity throughout the atmosphere.

#3: The Cuban Missile Crisis

1962

October of 1962 is the closest that the world has ever come to nuclear war. Ballistic missiles were found all over the globe, with America placing some in Turkey and Italy. In retaliation, the Soviet Union pointed missiles at America from Cuba. Both countries anticipated nuclear war, and President Kennedy was forced to create the Executive Committee of the National Security Council. They advised Kennedy to invade Cuba and start a war, but he decided on a more diplomatic approach. He quarantined Cuba and demanded that its nuclear missiles be dismantled. Following some tense negotiations, America and the Soviet Union reached a deal in which each country would dismantle their missiles. By deciding not to invade Cuba, Kennedy basically saved the world.

#2: Soviet Nuclear False Alarm Incident

1983

If there’s one single person we owe the world to, it’s Stanislav Petrov. The famous false alarm incident occurred on September 26, 1983. The early warning system of the Soviet Air Defence Forces was activated, indicating that five American missiles were headed towards the Soviet Union. Petrov suspected a false alarm, but he had a decision to make: either inform high command and launch a retaliatory attack, or ignore his orders, do nothing, and hope that his instincts were right. The fact that we’re still here tells us what he did. As it turns out, the warning system had malfunctioned and erroneously displayed American missiles when there were none. Essentially, nuclear war was prevented by one man with the steely nerves of a god.

#1: Comet Hyakutake

1996

The Great Comet of 1996 was observed the world over, and its bluish-green light could easily be seen with the naked eye. That’s because it was incredibly close to Earth - so close that it very nearly wiped us all out. The comet was officially discovered on January 31 and could be seen with the naked eye by March. In terms of Earthly distances, the comet was nowhere near us, passing by about nine million miles away. By comparison, the moon is only about 240,000 miles away. But on the cosmic scale, this was practically right next door. In fact, it was one of the closest comets to pass by Earth in over two hundred years.
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