On Jan. 23, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight — 20 seconds closer to midnight than the clock's previous position (2 minutes to midnight).

Naturally, many were alarmed by the clock's new position — it's the closest it's ever been to midnight, now — but what exactly is the Doomsday Clock, who decides what "time" it is, and why should we care about it?

What is the Doomsday Clock?

Officially debuted 1947, just two years after the end of WWII, the Doomsday Clock is a metaphoric symbol representing how close we are to a man-made global disaster, with midnight on the clock representing world-ending catastrophe and each minute (or second) on the face of the clock representing proximity to said catastrophe.

Factors which influence the clock's hands' position include climate change, nuclear threats, war and other scientific and technological developments, like A.I.

Who decides the position of the clock's hands?

The clock's position is determined by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board, a panel comprised of "scientists and other experts with deep knowledge of nuclear technology and climate science, who often provide expert advice to governments and international agencies." According to the Bulletin's official web site, the panel "consults widely with their colleagues across a range of disciplines and also seek the views of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates."

Every year, the board meets and "extinction-level threats are assessed and a time [on the clock] is announced" in January.

In 1945, the Bulletin was founded by University of Chicago scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project.

What does it mean that the Doomsday Clock is at "100 seconds to midnight"?

The Doomsday Clock was moved to 100 seconds to midnight in January 2020 after the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists determined that mounting environmental, nuclear and political threats have inched humanity closer than ever before towards impending global catastrophe.

"Without conscious efforts to reinvigorate arms control, the world is headed into an unregulated nuclear environment,” Sharon Squassoni, member of the Bulletin’s Science & Security Board, announced on Jan. 23. "In sum, the situation is extremely dangerous, and requires an emergency response."

What is the closest the Doomsday Clock has been to midnight?

The closest the Doomsday Clock has ever been to midnight is in 2020, when its hands were moved to 100 seconds to midnight. Previously, the closest position was 2 minutes to midnight, which the clock was set to first in 1953 (following the U.S. and then-Soviet Union's hydrogen bomb tests) and then again in 2018, amid world leaders' failure to appropriately address global warming and other humanity-threatening political and environmental issues.

The clock has been reset dozens of times since its debut in 1947. Its original setting was 7 minutes to midnight.

Should I be concerned about the Doomsday Clock?

Yes, but not necessarily in a panicked, disaster movie, grab-the-kids-and-head-to-the-bunker type of way.

The Doomsday Clock is, of course, a metaphor; an emblematic representation of where humanity stands in the face of, well, potentially impending doom. Sure, there's no meteor currently hurtling towards Earth (that we know of, anyway) but the clock's position does indicate, on a socio-cultural, planetary level, how likely we are to blowing ourselves up or destroying the planet (via global warming or other man-made disasters).

According to Bob Rosner, a member of the Bulletin’s Science & Security Board, "We have indeed normalized a very dangerous world in terms of the risks of nuclear warfare and climate change." And yes, that's something we should all be paying attention to.

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