Robots, aliens, and natural disasters — oh my! How you ever actually thought about the end of the world? Will it be a zombie apocalypse to end the world or more like a meteor strike? Whether you are worried about climate change or not, you should check out these jaw-dropping ways the earth could end one day… hopefully a long time from now. However, it might happen sooner than you think.
We actually tried to critically analyze the various ways the world could end while exploring the plethora of times the earth already exploded, or close to it! Perhaps someone will try to convince their cult to commit a mass extinction or the leaders of the world will push all of the big red buttons at once. Were the issues that haunted the world centuries ago, or even decades, still an issue? Keep reading to learn more about the world ending.
The World Has Ended Fully Five Times Already
No, this statement does not derive from Hindu or other religious beliefs about the world dying and being reborn. There have been multiple scenarios that have already occurred that nearly wiped out all life on earth. Scientists call these events mass extinctions.
There have been five mass extinction events in the past, not including the sixth, which we are currently in. When a mass extinction occurs, most life forms die off. The earth then becomes a sort of “blank canvas” for new life to take off. For example, after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, the stage was set for mammals to take over as the dominant life form.
The First Mass Extinction Was The Ordovician-Silurian Extinction
The Ordovician-Silurian Extinction occurred about 439 million years ago and caused 86% of life on earth to die off. This mass extinction was caused by precisely the opposite of what we are experiencing today: global cooling, as opposed to global warming.
Scientists believe that about 500 million years ago, there were too many plants on earth pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. As a result, the temperature of the planet cooled off and caused glaciers to grow. Sea levels dropped off, and entire ecosystems were destroyed.
With falling sea levels, the ecosystems that were most impacted by the Ordovician-Silurian Extinction were marine ecosystems. And at this time, most life on earth was marine! Large numbers of trilobytes, graptolites, and brachiopods, which had dominated the oceans, died off.
What happened to all of those plants that covered the earth half a billion years ago? We are burning them now, in the form of fossil fuels. All of the CO2 that caused the surface to cool 439 billion years ago is now being released back into the atmosphere.
The Next Mass Extinction Occurred 364 Million Years Ago
Life bounced back on earth following the Ordovician-Silurian Extinction. Even the trilobytes survived because of their hard outer shells. But the poor guys were nearly completely exterminated 364 million years ago, during the Late Devonian Extinction. This mass extinction event wiped out 75% of life on earth.
Like the Ordovician-Silurian Extinction, the Late Devonian Extinction probably also occurred because of the surplus of plants on land. These plants released so many nutrients into the soil, which leached into the oceans, that massive algal blooms formed in the oceans. These algal blooms suffocate marine ecosystems.
The Late Devonian Extinction Also Involved Volcanic Eruptions
Volcanic activity may also explain the Late Devonian Extinction. Volcanic eruptions release large amounts of ash into the atmosphere, which cools it down. Combined with the surplus of plants, massive volcanic eruptions probably cooled the surface of the earth down, just like in the Ordovician-Silurian Extinction.
Scientists aren’t sure if the Late Devonian Extinction was one event or a series of events. It may have actually spanned hundreds of thousands of years! Whatever the case may be, most life forms died off. Ten million years would pass before vertebrates once again appeared on land.
The Next Mass Extinction Is Known As “The Great Dying”
The End Permian Extinction, also known as the Permian-Triassic Extinction, occurred about 251 million years ago. It is known as “the great dying” because fully 96% of all life on earth died. It happened because of supervolcano activity, which caused immense amounts of carbon dioxide to fill the atmosphere.
Bacteria that fed on the carbon dioxide multiplied, and they released large amounts of methane. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, and its release caused the earth to warm considerably. The pH of the oceans became acidic, causing many marine lifeforms to die off. Only 4% of animal species survived.
Mass extinctions happen in phases, as they are usually caused by multiple factors that have a snowball effect on the earth’s delicate environment. While some mass extinctions occur over a period of hundreds of thousands of years, the Triassic-Jurassic Extinction occurred over a period of 15 million years.
This mass extinction event began about 199 million years ago and lasted until about 214 million years ago. When it started, mammals were the dominant lifeform on earth. But the Triassic-Jurassic Extinction killed off many of the mammals and paved the way for dinosaurs to become the kings of the world.
Many Factors Caused The Triassic-Jurassic Extinction
Scientists believe that there were many causative factors involved in this mass extinction, especially considering that it occurred over such a long period of time. There is evidence to suggest that there was an asteroid impact, which may have set off climate change.
There may have also been massive volcano eruptions, leading to a flood basalt. A flood basalt occurs when massive amounts of lava cover an enormous swath of land or the ocean floor, leading to changes in regional ecosystems. Whatever the case may be, most mammals on earth died and would not regain dominance until after the next mass extinction event.
The Next Mass Extinction Event Killed The Dinosaurs
The Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction is the most famous mass extinction event because it killed off the dinosaurs. It was set off by a massive asteroid impact that probably occurred in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. By the end of this mass extinction event, 76% of life on earth was destroyed.
The asteroid was the size of Manhattan, and its explosion was one billion times stronger than the atomic bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The impact immediately killed all life in the surrounding area and sent shockwaves throughout the world.
The Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Paved The Way For Mammals
With dinosaurs roaming the land, there was little room for mammalian species to evolve. The poor little guys were stuck at the bottom of the food chain and were fighting for their very survival. But with the extinction of the dinosaurs, mammals began to thrive.
The world, as we know it today, exists only because of this mass extinction event, and the mass extinction events that came before it. They have profoundly shaped the course of history, and the one that we are currently in will impact ecosystems all over the world for a long time.
Humans love to be afraid about the end of the earth. In fact, many religions around the world have prophecies about the “end times,” when the world as we know it will come to an end. Hindus believe that the world has ended and been recreated numerous times already and that it will end and be recreated many more times in the future.
Christians have the Book of Revelation; while some believe that the prophecies of Revelation refer to past events that occurred during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, plenty of Christians today believe that these prophecies refer to events in the future. Islam also has teachings and predictions about the last days, as did the ancient Norse and plenty of other religious groups.
Ragnarok refers to a series of events that would usher at the end of the world, according to ancient Norse beliefs. These events would center on deities like Thor, Odin, Loki, and Freya. The word “Ragnarok” means “fate of the gods,” as some of the gods would not survive the catastrophic destruction.
Natural disasters would destroy life on earth, and the planet would be submerged in water. Following these events, the Norse believed that two humans, a man, and a woman, would emerge and re-populate the earth. The gods who survived would also help rebuild the world from its ruins.
Many Christians Believe The Book Of Revelation Is Full Of Apocalyptic Prophecies
Plenty of Christian scholars and theologians have asserted that the book of Revelation refers to past events, but there are many Christians today who believe that its prophecies depict the coming end of the world. These Christians usually think that we are living in the “end times” and that the Antichrist will soon come to reign on earth.
Some Christians believe that the Antichrist is already reigning and point to world figures as being his embodiment. They think that following his reign will come a 1000-year period in which Christians rule the earth.
Fears and prophecies about an impending apocalypse don’t just stoke some religions. They actually cause cults to form. Cults that are based on concerns or preparations of a coming apocalypse, or the end of the world, are known as “doomsday cults.” They usually urge followers to stockpile goods and weapons, as they will be needed for the coming horror.
Some doomsday cults go even further and encourage violence. The Heaven’s Gate cult, led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, had 39 of its followers participate in a mass suicide so that they could be reborn on a UFO that was following the Hale-Bopp comet.
One Doomsday Cult Was The Movement For The Restoration Of The Ten Commandments Of God
This cult began in sub-Saharan Africa when a group of Catholic leaders had visions of Mary and came to believe that the world would end on December 31, 1999. The only way to prevent the world from ending was for people to begin following the Ten Commandments. The group that these leaders formed, The Movement For The Restoration Of The Ten Commandments, became a cult.
As we all know, the world did not end at the dawn of the new millennium. To make up for this error, the leaders of the movement changed the day that the world would end. To make sure that the world actually did end on their predicted date – March 17, 2000 – leaders of the cult threw a massive party in which they murdered 924 people.
Another Doomsday Cult Was The Church Universal And Triumphant
Elizabeth Clare Prophet settled on a ranch in Livingston, Montana in 1986 and began amassing followers who, like her, believed that the world would end on March 14, 1990. These people became known as the Church Universal and Triumphant, and they stockpiled food and weapons to prepare themselves for the end of the world.
But the world did not end. Six years passed, and the cult still remained on this ranch, living off the land and what they had stockpiled. Prophet renounced her leadership of the group in 1996.
God’s Salvation Church Knew Exactly When The End Would Come
Hon-Ming Chen was a Taiwanese Christian who claimed to have received a message from God about the coming end times. Only North America would be safe from the imminent disaster, so he brought a group of followers to settle in Garland, Texas. Meanwhile, Chen headed to Canada because he believed the Messiah would be a six-foot-tall Canadian who was 28 years old and resembled Abraham Lincoln.
Chen did not find his Canadian Messiah, but he was confident that God was going to show up in a UFO at 3513 Ridgedale Drive on March 31, 1998, and 10:00 in the morning. Needless to say, the UFO did not arrive as scheduled. Chen continued preaching about the end of the world, but it still hasn’t come.
The Order Of The Solar Temple Used Devices To Project Visions Of The End Times
The Order of the Solar Temple was a doomsday cult founded by Joseph Di Mambro in 1986. He and his followers believed that the city of Quebec would be the only place to survive the apocalypse and that they were given human bodies to warn people of the end times. The date of the apocalypse was to be determined.
Members of the cult had mystical visions, but one of its members, Tony Dutoit, discovered that these visions were actually projections from devices that leaders had installed. In retaliation, his infant son was labeled the Antichrist. Dutoit and his family were stabbed to death in 1994 before fires broke out in the homes of cult members. It turns out that there had been mass suicides in connection with the flames.
Dami Mission had about 20,000 followers in South Korea and was led by Lee Jang Rim. He claimed to have had visions of the rapture – when Christians would be ascended into heaven before the end of the world – which would occur precisely on October 28, 1992. About 1000 people showed up at Dami Mission’s headquarters to be part of the rapture.
Some of the cult’s followers had gotten divorced, abandoned their children, burned all of their worldly possessions, or even committed suicide to prepare for the end of the world. The world didn’t end, and Rim – who spent time in prison on fraud charges – changed his name to Lee Dap-gye. He founded another doomsday cult but did not give an exact date for when the end will come.
Not All Religious Beliefs Are About The Apocalypse
With the proliferation of doomsday cults and many mainstream Christians, Muslims, and other religionists insisting that the end of times is near (the bestselling Left Behind series is just one example), one might be tempted to believe that the only thing that religions care about is the impending apocalypse! But there are plenty of teachings in all world religions that have nothing to do with the end times. What people need to be wary of is doomsday cults, which only teach about the end times.
There are also nonreligious people who believe that the end of the world could be soon. These people are not basing their belief on religious sources and prophecies but rather on scientific evidence. They recognize that climate change, nuclear war, and other disasters could quickly cause the end of the world.
An Asteroid Could Bring About Another Mass Extinction
Asteroids have been associated with pretty much every mass extinction that has occurred, most famously the Cretaceous extinction that killed off the dinosaurs. The threat of an asteroid wiping off life on earth is so real that NASA keeps tabs on all asteroids that have the potential of striking the planet.
Asteroid strikes a set of chain reactions that have a catastrophic effect on the planet. The one that killed the dinosaurs caused fires to rage across the globe, effectively setting fire to the entire atmosphere. They disrupt the planet’s delicate climate, thereby causing entire ecosystems to collapse. Should a large enough asteroid strike the earth, its effects would be catastrophic.
An asteroid is basically a planetesimal that orbits the sun. It is a rocky body that is too small to have an atmosphere or sustain life, but some asteroids are large enough to pull things into their orbits. Pieces of asteroids that break off and come into contact with the earth’s atmosphere are called meteoroids.
Meteoroids continually strike the planet but usually with little effect, as most are the size of pebbles or small rocks. A meteoroid the size of a car would burn up in the atmosphere. It might produce a shockwave but will not cause a mass extinction. When a meteor is the size of a small house, though, we might be in for trouble.
A House-Sized Meteoroid Would Cause A Big Explosion
So big, in fact, that it would be larger than the nuclear explosions that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. It would kill just about everything in the immediate area and ignite fires that could quickly spread, especially if the area is dry and has a lot of vegetation.
A house-sized meteoroid would not be enough to cause a mass extinction, but it would be enough to stoke people’s fears. It would undoubtedly remind us that the world really could end within our lifetimes and that there may be nothing that we can do about a doomsday scenario.
A Large Meteorite Explosion Could Wipe Out Humanity
A meteoroid the size of a 20-story building would destroy a city the size of Paris and sent shock waves around the world. But its crater would only be the size of a football field. Meanwhile, the Chicxulub crater, created by the explosion that killed the dinosaurs, is 93 miles in diameter. The asteroid that hit it was as big as 50 miles across.
Should another object of this size strike the earth, then the likelihood of humanity surviving is very slim. Even people who hunkered down in bomb shelters would find that survival would be tough, as they would emerge to a desolate planet with no more civilization and a decimated food supply.
We can’t do much of anything about the chance of an interplanetary body, like an asteroid or meteoroid, striking the earth. Scientists are certainly deliberating about how to avert danger, but there is no guarantee that even their best efforts would succeed. What we should really be concerned about is how our own activity could bring about the end of our species.
Nuclear war has been a threat to humanity’s survival since the invention of the atomic bomb during World War II. The ensuing Cold War saw the massive armament of the United States and the Soviet Union, as they both stockpiled nuclear weapons in the event that one should begin a war. The acronym adopted for the strategy of détente, or not going to war with each other, was MAD – short for Mutually Assured Destruction.
Nuclear war is not just a relic from the Cold War. The year 2017 saw constant bickering between America’s President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il, with Trump actually asserting that his button (referring to his ability to launch a nuclear war) was bigger than North Korea’s button.
The fact is that the president of the United States can instigate a nuclear war. He needs to issue the order, at which point a military officer opens a briefcase known as the “football.” The football contains the information necessary to begin a nuclear strike. If the president officially decrees that a nuclear attack should commence, the military is to follow his orders, not question them.
The first atomic bomb was detonated in White Sands, New Mexico. The blast was so intense that the people who witnessed it were terrified at the thing that they had created and the new age that they were ushering in. When the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hundreds of thousands of people died.
That was in the 1940s. Nuclear technology has advanced so much in the time since that there is no telling how many people would die just in the initial blast. With megalopolis areas like New York City, London, and Tokyo holding tens of millions of residents, the death toll could be millions. But the actual destruction would be to come.
In addition to killing millions of people, one nuclear blast would release so much radiation into the atmosphere that many, many more people could become sick with radiation poisoning. Their hair and fingernails would fall out, some people’s skin might peel off, and many would develop cancer. The level of human suffering would be unparalleled in history.
The radiation would also poison the soil and contaminate every aspect of the world’s food supply. In addition, the onset of nuclear winter – sparked by the amount of smoke in multiple nuclear explosions – would disrupt the world’s fragile climate in such a way that nearly every human, plant, and animal on the planet would die.
Climate Change Could Also Bring About A Mass Extinction Event
In fact, many scientists believe that because of human-induced climate change, we actually are now in the sixth mass extinction event in the history of the planet. As many as 200 species are dying out every single day because of how the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities are impacting ecosystems.
In the past, global cooling has been responsible for several mass extinction events. Today, the threat is global warming. Glacial ice and the polar ice caps are melting, causing sea levels to rise. If current trends continue, sea levels will increase so much that many islands will be completely submerged.
Wildfires And Heatwaves Are Already Normal Occurrences
The past few summers have seen unprecedented heatwaves, like the one that tore through Europe in June of 2019. It caused vineyards in France to light up like blow torches and destroyed entire crops. It also killed several people.
Comparable heatwaves sparked wildfires in the United States, especially in the northernmost state of Alaska during the summer of 2019. These occurrences used to be rare, once-in-a-lifetime events. Now, they are commonplace. And they are destroying entire ecosystems, destroying human settlements, and killing people. The global temperature has only warmed by less than one degree Celsius, and the world already seems to be on a runaway path towards mass extinction.
If we were to burn through all of the fossil fuel reserves on the planet, its temperature would rise by as much as 18 degrees Celsius. Climatologists are warning that a rise of only two degrees. Celsius will be the limits of what human civilization can handle.
At a rise of 10 degrees Celsius, people will begin dying from the excessive heat. Heatwaves will probably send temperatures upwards of 60 degrees Celsius, equal to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Humans simply cannot survive for extended amounts of time with that kind of heat. People will begin dying just from the heat.
The last time that the earth’s temperature was a mere four degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial averages, there was no ice left at the poles, and sea levels were hundreds of feet higher than they are today. Imagine cities like Los Angeles, New York, London, and Tokyo going completely underwater.
That is the doomsday scenario that humanity is currently facing unless we can address the climate change crisis. The planet will turn into a veritable killing field, and civilization as we know it will come to a complete end. Humans will become a casualty of the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet.
The World Could Also End Through A Global Pandemic
In the 1980s, it was AIDS. In the 2000s, it was SARS. In the 2010s, it was Ebola. The fact is that human society is much more interconnected today than it has ever been at any point in history. And while that interconnectedness can make things like commerce and communication much more accessible, it also makes global pandemics a much more ever-present threat.
In the book The War of the Worlds, alien invaders come to earth and attempt to take over. They are easily able to defeat people, but they are powerless against the tiniest living things on earth, viruses, and bacteria. While in The War of the Worlds disease-causing pathogens saved humanity, in reality, they could end it.
Global Pandemics Have Brought Human Civilization To Its Knees
Before 430 BCE, the Greek city of Athens was one of the greatest cities in the world. Then it was struck with a plague that killed as many as 100,000 people, 25% of its inhabitants. The disease was probably brought into the city from Ethiopia via the Peloponnesian War. It brought the city of Athens to its knees.
Between the years of 165 and 175 CE, a pandemic known as the Antoine Plague killed five million people in the Roman Empire. The plague killed one-quarter of the people who became infected with it and severely weakened the strength of Rome.
The Black Death tore through Europe during the Middle Ages and killed as much as 60% of the population. It was a global pandemic that also hit Asia and Africa, where it killed untold numbers of people. The Black Death was so severe that it ushered in massive societal changes that led to the Renaissance.
Today, disease-control specialists at places like the World Health Organization are constantly monitoring outbreaks and working to ensure that a global pandemic does not happen. But if something like the Black Death were to occur in modern society, human civilization would come to its knees and might not survive.
Influenza kills people in the United States and across the world every year. One particularly nasty outbreak of the Spanish Flu in 1918 killed as many as 50 million people. More recently, H5N1, also known as the bird flu, along with the H1N1, or the swine flu, have proved to be fatal to humans.
Cholera is a disease that is transmitted through contaminated waterways. Outbreaks in Yemen and parts of Africa infect millions of people and claim tens of thousands of lives every year. And then there’s malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that has long been a scourge on Africa. Should one of these diseases rear its ugly head and travel along new trade routes, humanity will be in for a nasty surprise.
Gamma-ray bursts are powerful cosmic events that emit ten quadrillion times as much energy as the sun. They occur in distant galaxies, and scientists have only observed them indirectly. Because they shoot out in a straight line, rather than in an expanding sphere, the earth would have to be directly in its path to be affected.
Should a gamma-ray burst ever hit the earth, if it was far enough away, the universe might survive. But the high radiation in the explosion would cook the atmosphere and destroy the ozone layer. We would be subjected to such high levels of radiation just from the incoming sunlight that the entire food system would be destroyed.
A Massive Volcano Eruption Would Also Do The Trick
Hordes of visitors flock to Yellowstone National Park every year, many of them unaware that the entire park is the caldera of a massive supervolcano. Should the supervolcano erupt, the ash will submerge everything in its vicinity and pile up across the whole United States.
Should this occur, crops will fail, derailing the food supply. The world will also cool down, destabilizing the climate and causing fragile ecosystems to collapse. This scenario has actually happened multiple times in world history, and there is no guarantee that it will not happen again. The threat is so real that a team of seismologists is constantly monitoring Yellowstone.
This one is a stretch, but sure, why not. Marshall Applewhite led 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult into a mass suicide because they believed that they would be transported onto a UFO following the Hale-Bopp comet. And there have been plenty of Hollywood movies about an extraterrestrial invasion.
So sure, for good measure, let’s assume that aliens would invade the earth and either kill us or take us as their interstellar slaves. Bonus points if they cut you open and do experiments on your insides or attempt to impregnate you with an alien-human hybrid.
All this talk about the world ending is maddening. In fact, therapists are noting that more people are presenting with anxiety due to their fears of climate change. So yes, just the thought of the imminent end of the world is enough to make people go mad.
And if we all go mad, we could bring the world to an end on our own. But then again, some argue that we already are insane, as we are ignoring the existential threat of climate change and other ways that we are destroying our environment. After all, the famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking declared that we have yet to find if there is intelligent life on our own planet.
Where Did We Get This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:
“Timeline of Mass Extinction Events on Earth.” World Atlas.
“10 Doomsday Cults of the 20th Century,” by Debra Kelly. Listverse. October 19, 2016.
“This is exactly how a nuclear war would kill you,” by Alex Ward. Vox. December 26, 2018.
“This is how your world could end,” by Peter Brannen. The Guardian. September 9, 2017.
“Top 10 Deadliest Pandemics,” by Frank Tucker. MicroHealth. July 12, 2013.
“20 Ways The World Could End,” by Corey Powell and Diane Martindale. Discover Magazine. October 1, 2000.