Doomsday Clock is an initiative conceived by scientists of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists of the University of Chicago in 1947, which consists of a metaphorical clock that measures the risk of a hypothetical end of the world in which humanity is subjected.
The danger is quantified using the metaphor of a clock whose symbolic midnight symbolizes the end of the world while the minutes preceding represent the hypothetical distance from that event. Originally midnight only represented the atomic war and since 2007 it considers any event that could inflict irrevocable damage to humanity such as climate change.
At the time of its creation, during the Cold War, the clock was set to seven minutes to midnight and since then, the hands were moved 21 times. The closest approach to midnight (2 minutes) was achieved in 1953, after the thermonuclear weapons testing by the US and USSR, and maintained until 1960. The maximum distance was 17 minutes, between 1991 and 1995.
In 1947, scientists from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decided to transform their official publication from a simple newsletter, born two years earlier, into a monthly magazine.
Thus the co-founder of the magazine Hyman Goldsmith, asked the artist Martyl Langsdorf, wife of the researcher of Manhattan Project, Alexander Langsdorf jr. to make the clock design. It appeared for the first time in June 1947, and from then on it would always be present on the Bulletin cover to symbolize the commitment of its founders and the scientific community to inform the public and world leaders about the danger of nuclear weapons.
With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the nuclear power Iron Curtain, it was no longer regarded as the only threat to the future of humanity. Since 2007, in fact, the movement of the hands is also conditioned by any hazards resulting from climate change, the greenhouse effect, pollution and by new developments in the field of biological weapons and genetic engineering, issues on which the Bulletin started to put its attention.
In January 2007, the designer Michael Bierut, who works for the Bulletin's Governing Board, has redesigned the clock to give it a more modern look.
The decision whether or not to move the clock is made by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists each year. This has meant that in some cases there had been no time to move hands during events with a very short duration, such as the Cuban missile crisis that lasted 13 days and was only made public on a ninth day.