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Can You Read These Apocalyptic Facts Without Having An Existential Crisis?

Got a thing for doomsday scenarios? Then you'll love Hard Sun, a brand-new pre-apocalyptic crime drama on BBC iPlayer.

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1. The Permian mass extinction rendered a staggering 96% of species extinct.

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Also known as "the Great Dying", the Permian mass extinction is the worst event of its kind that the planet has ever seen. Taking place about 250 million years ago, massive volcanic eruptions wiped out the world’s forests, along with 95% of marine species and 70% of all land species. Huge amounts of toxic gas left in the eruption’s wake resulted planet-wide acid rain and depleted the planet’s ozone layer.

With bacteria breathing methane into the air and the planet covered in wood-eating fungi, the temperatures rose and the world’s oceans were left stagnant, experts believe the Great Dying had an unprecendented effect on the Earth.

2. The Bonilla Comet was a barely noticed brush with disaster.

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In August 1883, Mexican astronomer Jose Bonilla witnessed as many as 450 objects surrounded in mist passing across the face of the sun. In his published account of the event, Bonilla wrote that the flying objects were likely birds, insects, or maybe even dust on the telescope of his observatory.

More recently, a new study by researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico has come to a far deadlier conclusion. It turns out the objects that Bonilla saw were actually parts of a billion-ton comet that had just missed the Earth by a distance of between 600km and 8,000km.

Experts estimate that each of the hundreds of individual comet fragments that Bonilla observed was at least 50 metres wide and would have caused an extinction event had they collided with the Earth.

3. The Laki eruption wiped out one-fifth of the nearby population.

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Over 230 years ago, one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history nearly brought the world to its knees. The infamous Laki eruption that occurred in Iceland started with a series of earthquakes lasting three weeks and culminated in nearly eighth months of lava flows and eruptions.

Not only did this natural disaster wipe out a fifth of the population of the island it occurred on, but the sulphuric acid left in its wake caused temperatures to drop 1.3 degrees below normal for two to three years. On top of this, it damaged crops across Europe and even widespread droughts and famine in India.

4. The Black Plague killed 60% of Europe.

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Most people will have learned about the Black Death in school, but the devastation it wrought is still shocking to this day. Spreading across Europe in the years between 1346 and 1353, the Black Death was an epidemic of bubonic plague caused by the spread of Yersinia pestis, a bacterium circulated among black rats.

Spreading from rats to fleas and eventually to humans, the Black Death made its way across Europe at a devastating pace, wiping out 60% of the continent’s entire population. Horrific as it was, the plague eventually came to an end thanks to the implementation of quarantines, improvements in personal hygiene, and the practice of cremating the huge numbers of dead bodies instead of burying them.

5. The Cuban Missile Crisis really lived up to its name.

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For 13 days in October 1962, the Cold War was getting a little too hot for comfort. The United States of America and the Soviet Union were caught in a standoff over the a number of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles that had been placed in Cuba, a mere 90 miles away from US shores.

During this period, millions watched in fear as President John F Kennedy made a televised address informing Americans about the presence of the missiles and announcing that the US was prepared to use whatever force necessary to take care of this looming threat to national security.

In the days that followed, many people feared that nuclear war would be just around the corner. Thankfully, this existential threat was averted when Soviet leaders offered to remove the missiles on assurance that US forces would not invade Cuba. In secret, President Kennedy also agreed to remove US missiles that had been quietly placed in Turkey, a Soviet ally at the time. Crisis averted.

6. A false alarm nearly brought the Cold War to a nuclear end.

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On 26 September 1983, the computers in a Russian nuclear early warning centre detected something very terrifying. According to these machines, American nuclear missiles were armed and heading towards Moscow. Ordinarily a warning like this would have meant the end of the world (Russia would have had to fire their own missiles in response) had it not been for a man named Stanislav Petrov.

As the military officer on duty that day, it was Petrov’s job to report enemy missile launches, but he simply decided to ignore it. Assuming the early warning computer had made a false alarm, he instead reported it to his superiors as a system malfunction. Had he been wrong, the first nuclear explosions would have happened near minutes later. Thankfully, he was right.

7. The 2012 apocalypse nearly actually happened.

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2012 has always been a significant year for doomsday prophesiers. According to the Mayan calendar, it was the year the world as we knew it would end. While Mayan doomsday prophecies never came to pass, it turns out the world barely missed a brush with death that year.

On the 23 July 2012, a super solar storm came pretty close to hitting earth. On that day, a massive burst of solar energy tore through Earth’s atmosphere. Fortunately, a nearby solar observatory took most of the hit. Had this not been the case, the solar storm would have destroyed every electrical system on the planet, from national grids to radios, and had devastating implications for humanity. Close call.

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When a routine murder investigation uncovers the truth about an impending apocalypse, two very different police officers must work together to uphold the law in a world that's about to end.