Explosions heard 'round the world

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.

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.

Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.


More from mental floss studios