These times the world almost ended will shock you to the core, even though they, thankfully, left the Earth's core intact. Armageddon was almost a real-life event both in the olden days of yore and in the 21st century. These near apocalypses – whether due to mechanical failures, miscommunications, natural disasters, or brushes with cosmic and nuclear events – almost ruined everyone's day at some point in the history of the Earth.
When the Mayan calendar supposedly indicated that the apocalypse was headed for us in 2012, they weren't that far off. As it turns out, a solar superstorm in the summer of 2012 narrowly missed blasting planet Earth. That's just one of the many times humanity and all of Earth's creatures have escaped extinction by the metaphorical skin of their teeth.
In fact, our planet was familiar with "the end is near" concerns or real apocalypses well before Y2K hysteria. The Black Plague possibly killed as many as 200 million human beings, and you don't even want to hear the numbers when it comes to the Spanish Flu pandemic of the early 1900s. From comets, to volcanoes, to accidentally announcing nuclear war and setting off rockets, these are the times that the End of Days was almost just around the corner.
1979: A Simulation Was Confused With Reality
The movie War Games is a lot like what actually happened in 1979. The Pentagon thought 1,000 Soviet nukes were headed towards America when an Air Force officer checked out a simulation of exactly that. His computer happened to be hooked up to the mainframe in government control rooms, and the US got ready to launch.
1918: The Spanish Flu Swept The GlobeThe 1918 influenza pandemic infected 500 million people and killed 3-5% of the entire globe's population. One of history's deadliest natural disasters killed 10-40% of those it infected and may have taken the lives of 25 million individuals over just 25 weeks. It topped the charts, killing more humans in one year than the Black Death in 100 years and killed more in 24 weeks than AIDS did in 24 years.
1995: Yeltsin Almost Nuked America
The year was 1995 and the Cold War was over. But when Russia saw what looked exactly like a US ballistic missile on its way, President Boris Yeltsin opened a briefcase with the nuclear codes for the first time. With ten minutes to figure out whether or not to nuke America, Yeltsin ultimately (and fortunately) got word that it was a science experiment he hadn't been warned about.
- Photo: E. Kolmhofer, H. Raab; Johannes-Kepler-Observatory, Linz, Austria / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
1996: The Comet Hyakutake Flew Past Earth
The Great Comet of 1996 was great in size but the opposite of great in potential effect. It was the closest approach to Earth of any comet in the previous 200 years. Amateur astronomer Yuji Hyakutake saw it approaching, leading astronomers to notice X-rays being emitted from a comet for the first time ever.