The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face, maintained since 1947 by the board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago. The closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the world is estimated to be to global disaster. The most recent officially announced setting—five minutes to midnight (11:55pm)—was made on January 10, 2012. Reflecting international events dangerous to humankind, the clock's hands have been adjusted twenty times since its inception in 1947, when the clock was initially set to seven minutes to midnight (11:53pm).
Originally, the clock analogy represented the threat of global nuclear war; however, since 2007 it has also reflected climate-changing technologies and "new developments in the life sciences that could inflict irrevocable harm."
Since its inception, the clock has been depicted on every cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Its first representation was in 1947, when magazine co-founder Hyman Goldsmith asked artist Martyl Langsdorf (wife of Manhattan Project research associate and Szilárd petition signatory Alexander Langsdorf, Jr.) to design a cover for the magazine's June 1947 issue.
In 1947, during the Cold War, the clock was started at seven minutes to midnight and was subsequently advanced or rewound per the state of the world and nuclear war prospects. The clock's setting is decided by the directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and is an adjunct to the essays in the bulletin on global affairs. The clock has not always been set and reset as quickly as events occur; the closest nuclear war threat, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, reached crisis, climax, and resolution before it could be set to reflect that possible doomsday.
|1947||7||11:53pm||—||The initial setting of the Doomsday Clock.|
|1949||3||11:57pm||+4||The Soviet Union tests its first atomic bomb, officially starting the nuclear arms race.|
|1953||2||11:58pm||+1||The United States and the Soviet Union test thermonuclear devices within nine months of one another. (This is the clock's closest approach to midnight since its inception.)|
|1960||7||11:53pm||−5||In response to a perception of increased scientific cooperation and public understanding of the dangers of nuclear weapons, as well political actions taken to avoid "massive retaliation." The United States and Soviet Union cooperate and avoid direct confrontation in regional conflicts such as the 1956 Suez Crisis. Scientists from different countries help establish the International Geophysical Year, a series of coordinated, worldwide scientific observations between nations allied with both the United States and the Soviet Union, and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which allow Soviet and American scientists to interact.|
|1963||12||11:48pm||−5||The United States and Soviet Union sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty, limiting atmospheric nuclear testing.|
|1968||7||11:53pm||+5||Regional wars wage: Vietnam War intensifies, Six Day War occurs in 1967 and Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 takes place. Worse yet, France and China, two nations which have not signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, acquire and test nuclear weapons (1960 (Gerboise Bleue nuclear test) and 1964 (596 nuclear test) respectively) to assert themselves as global players in the nuclear arms race.|
|1969||10||11:50pm||−3||Every nation of the world, with the notable exceptions of India, Pakistan, and Israel, signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.|
|1972||12||11:48pm||−2||The United States and the Soviet Union sign the SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.|
|1974||9||11:51pm||+3||India tests a nuclear device (Smiling Buddha), SALT II talks stall. Both the United States and the Soviet Union modernize MIRVs|
|1980||7||11:53pm||+2||Unforeseeable end to deadlock in American–Soviet talks as Soviet war in Afghanistan proceeds. As a result of the war, the US Senate refuses to ratify SALT II agreement between both nations and President Jimmy Carter pulls the United States from the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow and considers ways in which the United States could win a nuclear war|
|1981||4||11:56pm||+3||Soviet war in Afghanistan hardens the US nuclear posture. Ronald Reagan becomes president, scraps further arms control talks with the Soviet Union and argues that the only way to end the Cold War is to win it.|
|1984||3||11:57pm||+1||Further escalation of the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.|
|1988||6||11:54pm||−3||The United States and the Soviet Union sign treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear forces, relations improve.|
|1990||10||11:50pm||−4||Fall of the Berlin Wall, dissolution of Iron Curtain sealing off Eastern Europe, Cold War nearing an end.|
|1991||17||11:43pm||−7||United States and Soviet Union sign the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. (This is the clock's earliest setting since its inception.)|
|1995||14||11:46pm||+3||Global military spending continues at Cold War levels; concerns about post-Soviet nuclear proliferation of weapons and brainpower.|
|1998||9||11:51pm||+5||Both India (Pokhran-II) and Pakistan (Chagai-I) test nuclear weapons in a tit-for-tat show of aggression; the United States and Russia run into difficulties in further reducing stockpiles.|
|2002||7||11:53pm||+2||Little progress on global nuclear disarmament; United States rejects a series of arms control treaties and announces its intentions to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; concerns about the possibility of a nuclear terrorist attack due to the amount of weapon-grade nuclear materials that are unsecured and unaccounted for worldwide.|
|2007||5||11:55pm||+2||North Korea's test of a nuclear weapon, Iran's nuclear ambitions, a renewed American emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia. Some scientists, assessing the dangers posed to civilization, have added climate change to the prospect of nuclear annihilation as the greatest threats to humankind.|
|2010||6||11:54pm||−1||Worldwide cooperation to reduce nuclear arsenals and limit effect of climate change. New START agreement is ratified by both the United States and Russia and more negotiations for further reductions in the American and Russian nuclear arsenal are already planned. 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark results in the developing and industrialized countries agreeing to take responsibility for carbon emissions and to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.|
|2012||5||11:55pm||+1||Lack of global political action to address nuclear weapons stockpiles, the potential for regional nuclear conflict, nuclear power safety, and global climate change.|
In popular culture
Alan Moore's 1986 graphic novel, Watchmen, which is set in 1985 during the heightening Cold War, makes extensive use of the image of the Doomsday Clock. The story is set in 1985, with Chapter 1 published in September 1986—both of these dates fall within a period when the Doomsday Clock was at its most perilous point in decades—namely 3 minutes to midnight, when dialogue between the two superpowers had virtually ground to a halt; it would stay in this position from 1984 until 1988.
The clock was also mentioned in the science fiction novel 'Inferno' written by Dan Brown. The clock was also referred to in the title of the Linkin Park album "Minutes to Midnight". Many of the songs in the album are about warfare, political threats, and more. In the music video for the song "What I've Done" ,the most popular single from the album , the is a nuclear explosion suggesting that nuclear warfare may arise. Also, the song "Hands Held High" is written about war and the effects on civilians.
The clock was used as part of a serial murderer's clues used to predict the third murder on the episode murder 2.0 on NCIS.
- Doomsday device
- Mutual assured destruction
- Risks to civilization, humans, and planet Earth
- Svalbard Global Seed Vault
- "Doomsday Clock moves to five minutes to midnight". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 2012-01-10.
- "Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight". Washington Post. 2012-01-10. Retrieved 2012-01-10.
- "'Doomsday Clock' Moves Two Minutes Closer To Midnight". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 2007-07-19.
- "The North Korean nuclear test". "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists". 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
- ""Doomsday Clock" Moves Two Minutes Closer To Midnight". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 2007-01-17. Retrieved 2007-01-17.
- "Nukes, climate push 'Doomsday Clock' forward". MSNBC. 2012-01-15. Retrieved 2012-01-15.
- "Timeline of the Doomsday Clock". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
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