Explosions heard 'round the world

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From North Korean nuclear tests to home-grown Mentos-n-Coke cocktails, if there's one thing our world has plenty of these days, it's explosions. Despite the frequency of modern explosions, however, there are a few historical booms which blow away the competition -- pun intended -- and are remembered today not only for their awesome destructive force, but for being audible many hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.

The Tunguska Event
The cause of this famous 1908 explosion in Siberia is still contested by some -- everything from alien spacecraft to long-distance energy transmission experiments by Nikola Tesla gone wrong have been posited as its cause -- though most experts believe the culprit was a meteor, which exploded while it was still about six miles above a remote portion of Siberian forest. The blast released 15 megatons of energy—about a thousand times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima—and flattened 770 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) of forest. The shock wave broke windows and knocked people off their feet hundreds of miles away, and according to the 1966 Guinness Book, due to the rotation of the Earth, if the meteor had fallen just four and a half hours later it would've wiped the city of St. Petersburg from the map. And in semi-breaking news, scientists think they may have just found the meteorite's impact crater -- some 99 years later.

krakatoa.jpgKrakatoa
Certainly the biggest bang in recent history, the 1893 volcanic explosion on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa rocked the Southern hemisphere, sending 120-foot tidal waves crashing into nearby Java and Sumatra, smoke and debris into the atmosphere in such prodigious quantities that it caused global cooling of about four degrees over the next year, and could be heard from as far away as Perth, Australia (1,930 miles) and the island of Rodrigues near Mauritius (a stunning 3,000 miles distant). And as long as we're comparing explosions to Hiroshima, Krakatoa's force was about 1,000,000 times that of the famed nuke. What's more, all that atmospheric debris made for some dramatically blood-red sunsets 'round the world, which apparently inspired the apocalyptic sky in Munch's The Scream.

Mount Tambora
It seems no one can throw an eruption like Indonesia, also the site of the devastating 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora. The deadliest eruption ever recorded (it probably claimed some 92,000 victims), it ejected so much light-blocking debris into the atmosphere that 1816 was known as "The Year Without a Summer." Indeed, the crop failures and livestock deaths that resulted in much of the Northern hemisphere caused the worst famine of the 19th century -- all thanks to one big explosion. Though more destructive, it doesn't seem to have been as loud as Krakatoa (it was heard a mere 1,200 miles away on Sumatra), though that's still pretty darn loud. In 2004, archaeologists discovered extensive, Pompeii-like remains beneath deep pockets of eruption deposit, including victims, homes and items undisturbed in the positions they had held since the morning they were buried.

November 9, 2007 - 6:25am
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