Doomsday Clock
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For the Smashing Pumpkins song, see Doomsday Clock (song).
"Minutes to Midnight" redirects here. For other uses, see Minutes to Midnight (disambiguation).
The Doomsday Clock pictured at its most recent setting of "two and a half minutes to midnight".

The Doomsday Clock is a symbol which represents the likelihood of a global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947 by the members of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board,[1] the Clock, which hangs on a wall in The Bulletin's office in the University of Chicago,[2] represents an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war. Since 2007, it has also reflected climate change[3] and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity.[4]

The Clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as "midnight", and The Bulletin's opinion on how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of "minutes" to midnight. Its original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 22 times since then, the smallest ever number of minutes to midnight being two (in 1953) and the largest seventeen (in 1991). As of January 2017, the Clock is set at two and a half minutes to midnight, due to a "rise of 'strident nationalism' worldwide, United States President Donald Trump's comments over nuclear weapons, and the disbelief in the scientific consensus over climate change by the Trump Administration."[5][6] This setting is the Clock's second closest approach to midnight since its introduction.


Cover of the 1947 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists issue, featuring the Doomsday Clock at "seven minutes to midnight".

The Doomsday Clock's origin can be traced to the international group of researchers called the Chicago Atomic Scientists, who had participated in the Manhattan Project.[2] After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they began publishing a mimeographed newsletter and then the magazine, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which, since its inception, has depicted the Clock on every cover. The Clock was first represented in 1947, when The Bulletin 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. As Eugene Rabinowitch, another co-founder of The Bulletin, explained later,

The Bulletin's clock is not a gauge to register the ups and downs of the international power struggle; it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age...[7]

In January 2007, designer Michael Bierut, who was on The Bulletin's Governing Board, redesigned the Clock to give it a more modern feel. In 2009, The Bulletin ceased its print edition and became one of the first print publications in the U.S. to become entirely digital; the Clock is now found as part of the logo on The Bulletin's website. Information about the Doomsday Clock Symposium,[8] a timeline of the Clock's settings,[5] and multimedia shows about the Clock's history and culture[9] can also be found on The Bulletin's website.

The 5th Doomsday Clock Symposium[8] was held on November 14, 2013, in Washington, D.C.; it was a daylong event that was open to the public and featured panelists discussing various issues on the topic "Communicating Catastrophe". There was also an evening event at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in conjunction with the Hirshhorn's current exhibit, "Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950".[10] The panel discussions, held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, were streamed live from The Bulletin's website and can still be viewed there.[11] Reflecting international events dangerous to humankind, the Clock has been adjusted 22 times since its inception in 1947,[12] when it was set to "seven minutes to midnight".


In 1947, during the Cold War, the Clock was started at seven minutes to midnight ("midnight" being a hypothetical global catastrophe) and was subsequently advanced or rewound per the state of the world and nuclear warfare prospects. The Clock's setting is decided by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists's Science and Security Board and is completely arbitrary without a specified starting time. The Clock is not set and reset in real time as events occur; rather than respond to each and every crisis as it happens, the Science and Security Board meets twice annually to discuss global events in a deliberative manner. The closest nuclear war threat, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, reached crisis, climax, and resolution before the Clock could be set to reflect that possible doomsday.[13]

Doomsday Clock graph, 1947–2017. The lower points on the graph represent a higher probability of technologically or environmentally-induced catastrophe, and the higher points represent a lower probability.
Timeline of the Doomsday Clock[5]
YearMinutes to midnightChange (minutes)Reason
19477 —The initial setting of the Doomsday Clock.Doomsday Clock 7 minute mark.jpg
19493−4The Soviet Union tests its first atomic bomb, the RDS-1, officially starting the nuclear arms race.Doomsday Clock 3 minute mark.jpg
19532−1The United States tests its first thermonuclear device in November 1952 as part of Operation Ivy, before the Soviet Union follows suit in August. This is the Clock's closest approach to midnight since its inception.Doomsday Clock 2 minute mark.jpg
19607+5In response to a perception of increased scientific cooperation and public understanding of the dangers of nuclear weapons (as well as 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 various 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.Doomsday Clock 7 minute mark.jpg
196312+5The United States and the Soviet Union sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty, limiting atmospheric nuclear testing.Doomsday Clock 12 minute mark.jpg
19687−5The involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War intensifies, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 takes place, and the Six-Day War occurs in 1967. France and China, two nations which have not signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, acquire and test nuclear weapons (the 1960 Gerboise Bleue and the 1964 596, respectively) to assert themselves as global players in the nuclear arms race.Doomsday Clock 7 minute mark.jpg
196910+3Every nation in the world, with the notable exceptions of India, Israel, and Pakistan, signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.Doomsday Clock 10 minute mark.jpg
197212+2The United States and the Soviet Union sign the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.Doomsday Clock 12 minute mark.jpg
19749−3India tests a nuclear device (Smiling Buddha), and SALT II talks stall. Both the United States and the Soviet Union modernize multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs).Doomsday Clock 9 minute mark.jpg
19807−2Unforeseeable end to deadlock in American–Soviet talks as the Soviet–Afghan War begins. As a result of the war, the U.S. Senate refuses to ratify the SALT II agreement.Doomsday Clock 7 minute mark.jpg
19814−3The Clock is adjusted in early 1981.[14] The Soviet war in Afghanistan toughens the U.S.' nuclear posture. U.S. President Jimmy Carter withdraws the United States from the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. The Carter administration considers ways in which the United States could win a nuclear war. Ronald Reagan becomes President of the United States, scraps further arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union, and argues that the only way to end the Cold War is to win it. Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union contribute to the danger of the nuclear annihilation.Doomsday Clock 4 minute mark.jpg
19843−1Further escalation of the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, with the ongoing Soviet–Afghan War intensifying the Cold War. U.S. Pershing II medium-range ballistic missile and cruise missiles are deployed in Western Europe.[14] Ronald Reagan pushes to win the Cold War by intensifying the arms race between the superpowers. The Soviet Union and its allies (except Romania) boycott the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, as a response to the U.S-led boycott in 1980.Doomsday Clock 3 minute mark.jpg
19886+3In December 1987, the Clock is moved back three minutes as the United States and the Soviet Union sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles, and their relations improve.[15]Doomsday Clock 6 minute mark.jpg
199010+4The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, along with the reunification of Germany, mean that the Cold War is nearing its end.Doomsday Clock 10 minute mark.jpg
199117+7The United States and Soviet Union sign the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), and the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26. This is the furthest from midnight the Clock has been since its inception.Doomsday Clock 17 minute mark.jpg
199514−3Global military spending continues at Cold War levels amid concerns about post-Soviet nuclear proliferation of weapons and brainpower.Doomsday Clock 14 minute mark.jpg
19989−5Both 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.Doomsday Clock 9 minute mark.jpg
20027−2Little 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, amid 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.Doomsday Clock 7 minute mark.jpg
20075−2North Korea tests a nuclear weapon in October 2006,[16] 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.[17] After assessing the dangers posed to civilization, climate change was added to the prospect of nuclear annihilation as the greatest threats to humankind.[18]Doomsday Clock 5 minute mark.jpg
20106+1Worldwide cooperation to reduce nuclear arsenals and limit effect of climate change.[5] 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. The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen results in the developing and industrialized countries agreeing to take responsibility for carbon emissions and to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.Doomsday Clock 6 minute mark.jpg
20125−1Lack of global political action to address global climate change, nuclear weapons stockpiles, the potential for regional nuclear conflict, and nuclear power safety.[19]Doomsday Clock 5 minute mark.jpg
20153−2Concerns amid continued lack of global political action to address global climate change, the modernization of nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia, and the problem of nuclear waste.[20]Doomsday Clock 3 minute mark.jpg
201721212Rise of nationalism, United States President Donald Trump's comments over nuclear weapons, the threat of a renewed arms race between the U.S. and Russia, and the expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus over climate change by the Trump Administration.[6][21][22][23][24] This is the first use of a fraction in the time, and the Clock's closest approach to midnight since 1953.Doomsday Clock- 2.5 minutes.svg

In popular culture[edit]

The Clock is featured in the 1986–87 comic book series Watchmen and the 2009 film Watchmen, where it is set at five minutes to midnight.[25] It is also featured in an xkcd comic, where the main character pulls the hour hand forward an hour in accordance with the start of Daylight Saving Time.[26] The title of Iron Maiden's song "2 Minutes to Midnight" is a reference to the Clock.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up ^ "Science and Security Board". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b "Doomsday Clock moving closer to midnight?". The Spokesman-Review. October 16, 2006. 
  3. Jump up ^ Stover, Dawn (September 26, 2013). "How Many Hiroshimas Does it Take to Describe Climate Change?". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 
  4. Jump up ^ "'Doomsday Clock' Moves Two Minutes Closer To Midnight". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved June 29, 2013. 
  5. ^ Jump up to: a b c d "Timeline". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. January 2015. 
  6. ^ Jump up to: a b Science and Security Board Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. "It is two and a half minutes to midnight" (PDF). Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved January 26, 2017. 
  7. Jump up ^ "The Doomsday Clock". The Southeast Missourian. February 22, 1984. 
  8. ^ Jump up to: a b "Doomsday Clock Symposium". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved September 10, 2013. 
  9. Jump up ^ "A Timeline of Conflict, Culture, and Change". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved June 20, 2013. 
  10. Jump up ^ "Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950". Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. 2013. 
  11. Jump up ^ "5th Doomsday Clock Symposium". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved September 14, 2013. 
  12. Jump up ^ "Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight". Washington Post. January 10, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2012. 
  13. Jump up ^ "Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 6 October 2016. 
  14. ^ Jump up to: a b "Doomsday Clock at 3'til midnight". The Daily News. December 21, 1983. 
  15. Jump up ^ "Hands of the 'Doomsday Clock' turned back three minutes". The Reading Eagle. December 17, 1987. 
  16. Jump up ^ "The North Korean nuclear test". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  17. Jump up ^ "'Doomsday Clock' Moves Two Minutes Closer To Midnight". The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. 17 January 2007. Retrieved 6 April 2015. 
  18. Jump up ^ "Nukes, climate push 'Doomsday Clock' forward". MSNBC. 2012-01-15. Retrieved 2012-01-15. 
  19. Jump up ^ "Doomsday Clock moves to five minutes to midnight". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 2013-06-29. 
  20. Jump up ^ Casey, Michael (22 January 2015). "Doomsday Clock moves two minutes closer to midnight". CBS News. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  21. Jump up ^ "Board moves the Clock ahead". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 26 January 2017. Retrieved January 26, 2017. 
  22. Jump up ^ Holley, Peter; Ohlheiser, Abby; Wang, Amy B. "The Doomsday Clock just advanced, 'thanks to Trump': It's now just 2½ minutes to 'midnight.'". Washington Post. Retrieved 26 January 2017. 
  23. Jump up ^ Bromwich, Jonah Engel (26 January 2017). "Doomsday Clock Moves Closer to Midnight, Signaling Concern Among Scientists". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017. 
  24. Jump up ^ Chappell, Bill. "The Doomsday Clock Is Reset: Closest To Midnight Since The 1950s". Retrieved 26 January 2017. 
  25. Jump up ^ Couch, Aaron. "Real-Life Doomsday Clock Is Closer to Midnight Than in 'Watchmen'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 28, 2017. 
  26. Jump up ^ xkcd, "Doomsday Clock"
  27. Jump up ^ Bowen, LB (January 24, 2017). "Doomsday Clock: Iron Maiden – Two Minutes to Midnight". OnStage Magazine. Retrieved February 11, 2017. 

External links[edit]