Next week, humanity will find out if we’re closer to total self-destruction when the Doomsday Clock is updated.
The symbolic clock, which edges closer to midnight to reflect human-made global catastrophes, will be revealed during a livestream on Tuesday (January 23).
Since last year, the Doomsday Clock has been set at 90 seconds to midnight.
But MailOnline predicts it will get closer to midnight as the the Israel-Hamas war rages on, the conflict in Ukraine shows no sign of ending and climate disasters continue to wreak havoc.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Doomsday Clock before it’s updated next week.
Since last year the clock has been set at 90 seconds to midnight – but it’s very likely it will move closer to midnight to reflect the last 12 months of humanitarian catastrophes
Last year, the clock was set at just 90 seconds to ‘midnight – the closest it has ever been to midnight since the hands were first set in 1947
WHAT IS THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK?
The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic timepiece showing how close the world is to a human-made global catastrophe, as deemed by experts.
Every year the clock is updated based on how close we are to the total annihilation of humanity (‘midnight’).
If the clock goes forward and gets closer to midnight (compared with where it was set the previous year) it suggests humanity has got closer to self destruction.
But if it moves back, further away from midnight, it suggests humanity has reduced the risks of global catastrophe in the past 12 months.
Some years, the hands of the clock are not moved at all – as was the case in 2021 and 2022 – which suggests the global situation has not changed.
The clock is set by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago that publishes an academic journal.
Experts at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists remove a cloth covering the Doomsday Clock in Washington on January 24, 2023. Last year, the clock moved forward to reach 90 seconds to midnight. It was the closest the Doomsday Clock has got to midnight in its entire history
Although symbolic and not an actual clock, the organization does unveil a physical ‘quarter clock’ model at an event when revealing if and how the hands have moved.
After the unveiling, the model can be found located at the Bulletin offices in the Keller Center, home to the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
WHEN IS THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK UPDATED?
Every January, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reveals its annual update to the Doomsday Clock (even if the hands have not have moved).
This year, the organisation will reveal the clock hands at 10am EST (3pm GMT) on Tuesday (January 23) during a livestreamed event.
Speakers at the event will include Bulletin president and CEO Rachel Bronson and science educator Bill Nye, known in the US for his wacky experiments.
It will be livestreamed on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists YouTube channel and website.
MailOnline will also be covering the announcement live.
WHEN WAS THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK CREATED?
The Doomsday Clock goes back to June 1947, when US artist Martyl Langsdorf was hired to design a new cover for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists journal.
With a striking image on the cover, the organisation hoped to ‘frighten men into rationality’, according to Eugene Rabinowitch, the first editor of the journal.
June 1947 cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists featuring the Doomsday Clock at seven minutes to midnight
Dr Leonard Rieser, Chairman of the Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, moves the hand of the Doomsday Clock back to 17 minutes before midnight at offices near the University of Chicago on November 26, 1991
It came amid a backdrop of public fear surrounding atomic warfare and weaponry, just two years after the Second World War ended.
Langsdorf initially considered drawing the symbol for uranium before sketching a clock to convey a sense of urgency.
She set it at seven minutes to midnight because ‘it looked good to my eye’, Langsdorf later said.
On the cover of later issues in subsequent years, the hands of the clock were adjusted based on how close we are to catastrophe.
In 2009, the Bulletin ceased its print edition but the clock is still updated once a year on its website and is now a much-anticipated highlight of the scientific calendar.
WHO DECIDES THE TIME?
Shortly after it was first created, Bulletin Editor Eugene Rabinowitch decided whether or not the hands should be moved.
Rabinowitch was a scientist, fluent in Russian, and a leader in the conversations about nuclear disarmament, meaning he was in frequent discussions with scientists and experts all over the world.
After considering the discussions, he would decide whether the clock should be moved forward or backward, at least in the first few decades of the clock’s existence.
When he died in 1973, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board took over, made up of experts on nuclear technology and climate science.
This has included 13 Nobel Laureates over the years.
The panel meets twice a year to discuss ongoing world events, such as the war in Ukraine, and whether a clock change is necessary.
WHEN WERE THE HANDS SET CLOSEST TO MIDNIGHT?
In 2023, the hands were set at the closest they’ve ever been to midnight – 90 seconds – as humanity entered a ‘time of unprecedented danger’.
The change was largely due to the war in Ukraine and Russia’s threat of using nuclear weapons against Ukraine’s allies.
MailOnline predicts the clock could get closer to midnight as the the Israel-Hamas war rages on. Pictured, smoke billowing over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on January 18
The change in 2023 was largely due to the war in Ukraine, which the science and security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists predicted would carry on for its second year
Prior to 2023, the hands were set the closest they’d ever been to midnight in 2020 (100 seconds to midnight).
It was because governments around the world were faced with ‘two simultaneous existential dangers – nuclear war and climate change.
WHEN WERE THE HANDS FURTHEST AWAY FROM MIDNIGHT?
In 1991, following the end of the Cold War, the Bulletin set the clock hands to 17 minutes to midnight.
The end of the war saw the US and the Soviet Union sign the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
This meant the countries would cut down their nuclear weapons arsenal, reducing the threat of nuclear war.
WILL THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK REACH MIDNIGHT IN 2024?
When it’s updated next week, the clock won’t reach midnight – as this would mean humanity is at the point of total annihilation and self destruction.
However, it’s very likely the hands will move forward, considering the current conflict between Israel-Hamas and the fact the war on Ukraine hasn’t ended.
In 2007, the Bulletin began including catastrophic disruptions from climate change in its hand-setting deliberations.
Climate will likely play a part in decisions this year as scientists have repeatedly warned in the past 12 months about the costs of the world heating up.