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    23 Things I Learned This Week That Sent Me Down A Rabbit Hole

    FYI: Baby koalas eat their mothers' poop.

    1. This is the structure — aka the "sarcophagus" — that was built to contain Chernobyl's highly radioactive reactor 4. Despite the (limited) protection it provides, the surrounding area won't be habitable for an estimated 20,000 years.

    A large dome-like structure looming large in a semi-industrial and semi-residential landscape
    Oleksii Hlembotskyi / Getty Images/iStockphoto

    2. Garfield phones have been washing up on the beaches of Brittany, France, since the 1980s. The source of these phones has long been a mystery until, in 2019, a lost shipping container was located tucked inside a sea cave — the very same shipping container that was carrying the phones three decades earlier. The sad news is that the container was empty, which means every phone has been washed out to sea.

    A phone shaped like Garfield the cat sitting in the tides and sea foam on a beach
    Fred Tanneau / AFP via Getty Images

    3. More than 300 people have died trying to climb Mount Everest since it became popularized almost exactly a century ago, and a large portion of those bodies remain on the mountain.

    Mount Everest from a distance
    Sarah Lai / AFP via Getty Images

    It's believed that more than 100 bodies are still on Mount Everest — in fact, as global warming causes the ice to melt, more and more are being discovered all the time, and some of the corpses are very well preserved despite being decades old. In the majority of cases, it's either too expensive or too dangerous (or both) to remove the bodies. Some retrieval expeditions have even resulted in additional deaths.  

    4. On October 24, 1926, 52-year-old Harry Houdini was rushed to the hospital after complaining about stomach pains. He died a week later on Halloween. The official cause of death would be attributed to appendicitis and peritonitis — but some, including his grandnephew, believe he was murdered by mystics and spiritualists.

    An older looking Harry Houdini posing with chains on his wrists
    Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

    The story of Harry Houdini's death — or at least some version of it — is nearly as famous as the man himself. One popular (though not entirely accurate) telling is that Houdini, who would challenge people to punch him in the stomach to show off his pain tolerance and durability, was asleep backstage when someone decided to take him up on that challenge when he least expected it. 

    The truth is that Houdini was awake for the punches that are believed to have killed him, though he was sitting down because he'd broken his ankle. The challenger, a Montreal college student, delivered not one but five successive hits to his gut. He began to experience stomach pains that night — seems pretty cut and dry, right? It was a stunt gone wrong, an accident. Who would want to murder Harry Houdini? (The answer: Apparently a lot of people.)

    Houdini had plenty of enemies. He was a vocal critic of psychics, mediums, and clairvoyants, and he threw his fame and influence behind efforts to expose them as frauds and liars. These efforts included (but weren't limited to) learning their tricks and performing them himself, and also backing a bill that would regulate the profession — he even testified before Congress in support of said bill. Harry Houdini despised self-proclaimed psychics, and the feeling was mutual.

    As far as evidence of murder goes, there isn't any. Though in 2008, Houdini's grandnephew George Hardeen attempted to have his body exhumed in an effort to find that evidence. According to his attorney, "There was a motive to murder Harry Houdini, and it was suppressed and covered up" — the attempt was unsuccessful; no exhumation took place.

    5. George W. Bush was head cheerleader during his senior year in high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

    George W. Bush in his yearbook posing with other cheerleaders
    Brooks Kraft / Sygma via Getty Images

    6. It takes 248 Earth-years for Pluto to complete a single orbit around the Sun, which means not even half a Plutonian year has passed since it was discovered in 1930.

    A close-up of Pluto

    7. During a 1986 exploration of the Titanic wreckage, these dishes were spotted sitting on the ocean floor in this eerily organized arrangement:

    A dimly lit shot of stacks of dishes on the ocean floor
    - / AFP via Getty Images

    8. Some of those dishes were recovered and put on display at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition in 2010. Here are those same dishes looking almost brand new:

    Sparkling dishes arranged for viewing in a musuem
    REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

    9. An Egyptian vulture was just spotted in the UK for the first time since 1868, and before that it was last spotted in 1825 — the only two documented sightings of this bird in the region until this year.

    An Egyptian vutlure
    Gerard Sioen / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

    10. At the young age of 24, Poon Lim would find himself stranded in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, alone, for *133 days*. Against all odds, and with limited seafaring experience, he would somehow manage to survive the ordeal. Poon Lim holds the Guinness World Record for most days stranded at sea on a raft.

    Poon Lim posing for a photo on his trip to London

    In 1942, at the height of the second World War, Poon Lim was traveling aboard a merchant ship called the SS Ben Lomond when it was torpedoed by a German submarine. He would be the sole survivor of the attack, and since he was a novice seaman (Poon didn't even know how to swim), his outlook seemed grim at best. 

    For the next 133 days, Poon used every tool at his disposal and used them well. He pulled nails out of his raft to fashion fish hooks and extracted thread from a gunny-sack for fishing line; he collected rainwater using a small tarp and parts of his life jacket; and he used the lid of a small tin can as his only knife (there were some limited provisions on the raft when he found it). He also became proficient at pouncing on birds that would land on his raft, and when he caught a small fish he'd use it as bait instead of eating it — a strategy that at one point would help him catch a shark. 

    Poon was eventually rescued by a team of Brazilian fishermen. According to a 1943 New York Times story, he spent 45 days in the hospital following his rescue, but overall his condition was "not so bad" — in fact, he was in remarkably good shape, and his apparent penchant for survival made him a bit of a celebrity.  

    Later that year, Poon would travel to London where King George VI awarded him  the British Empire Medal. After doing a bit more traveling and sharing his story with captivated audiences around the world, he would settle in Brooklyn, New York, where he would live out the rest of his life until he died in 1991.

    11. "Steady" Ed Headrick, who perfected the design of the frisbee and invented the game of frisbee golf, requested that, after his death, his ashes be used to make a set of limited-edition frisbees — and, just after he died in 2002, his wish was granted. Some of the frisbees were distributed to family and friends, while others were sold to help fund the Headrick Memorial Museum.

    Ed Headrick posing with his dogs

    12. No, this isn't a photo of Mars — it's Death Valley National Park in California. The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was in Death Valley on July 10, 1913. It was 134°F (57°C) that day, and just this week that record came close to being broken: Temperatures hit 128°F (53°C).

    Dry, cracked desert ground
    David Bailey / Getty Images

    13. The origin of the word "dashboard" — now a commonplace term for the panels in front of drivers and pilots, and more recently for a navigational interface for data management tools and computer programs — comes from a forward-facing piece of wood or leather that would serve as a barrier for when the horses' hooves would dash mud up at the driver and/or the occupants of a carriage or buggy.

    A carriage with the dashboard pointed out

    14. There's a very remote area in the Pacific Ocean called the "oceanic pole of inaccessibility" — more commonly called "Point Nemo" — and it's the farthest you can get from land in any direction. If you ever find yourself at Point Nemo, the next closest humans might be right above your head on the International Space Station.

    A vast oceanscape with no land in sight
    Malorny / Getty Images

    15. Every Froot Loop is the same flavor.

    A pile of Froot Loops
    Miguel Bandala / Getty Images/EyeEm

    16. The largest star ever measured is a red hypergiant called VY Canis Majoris. Over 600 million miles wide and more than 300,000 times brighter than our own sun, if it were plopped down in the middle of our solar system, it would extend past Jupiter's orbit.

    An artist's rendering of VY Canis Majoris
    NASA, ESA, and R. Humphreys (University of Minnesota), and J. Olmsted (STScI)

    And here's a visual representation in case you're having trouble imagining that:

    A diagram depicting our solar system with a large line drawn between Jupiter and Mercury to illustrate the size of the star

    Still having trouble imagining how big that star is? Well here's what a sunset on Mars looks like:

    A small dot in the sky over Mars slinking behind a darkened landscape

    And here's what a "sunset" on Mars would look like if VY Canis Majoris were our sun — Mars would literally be inside of it.

    An up close shot of the surface of the sun

    17. So little is known about the mating habits — both the "how" and the "where" — of great white sharks that observing it has come to be considered the "Holy Grail" of marine biology and shark ecology. Only two eyewitness accounts of the act have ever been documented, one of which was reported just last year.

    A great white swimming
    Dave J Hogan

    Dick Ledgerwood, a now-retired New Zealand fisherman, witnessed the mysterious ritual back in 1997, and a marine biologist named Steve Crawford managed to track him down recently. Ledgerwood told the Guardian that he'd often spot great whites on his fishing expeditions, but that he'd never spotted anything like this.

    Encountering a pair of sharks in shallow water, he saw them “locked together,” belly to belly, and "just revolving round and round, very, very slowly.”

    18. Because eucalyptus leaves are loaded with toxins that only adult koalas can withstand, baby koalas have to eat their mothers' poop for a more...diluted eucalyptus diet.

    A baby and mama koala
    Himagine / Getty Images/iStockphoto

    19. There are many more trees on Earth (an estimated 3 trillion of them) than there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy (somewhere between 100 and 400 billion of those).

    Fabien Astre / Getty Images, Natapong Supalertsophon / Getty Images

    20. Jacanas have really long, spider-like toes, which make it easier for them to walk on lily pads.

    Nick Brundle Photography / Getty Images, Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

    21. This is what a lavender field looks like:

    Rolling fields of lavender
    Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket via Getty Images

    22. Pictured below is a life-sized replica of a Titanoboa, which was a prehistoric snake that was almost 40 feet long (12 meters) and more than 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms), making it far and away the largest snake that's ever lived (as far as we know).

    A Titanoboa replica in a muesum being arranged by a group of people
    The Washington Post / The Washington Post via Getty Images

    And what would a list of facts be without a good old-fashioned frog:

    23. This weird guy is called a Proceratophrys boiei, or a Boie's frog, and when these frogs feel threatened, they're able to flatten themselves out on the rainforest floor to look even more like a leaf than they already do.

    A frog with what looks like horns above each eye looking very leaf-like
    agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

    Want to see what I learned last week? Click here to find out. And click HERE to see everything I learned in May.

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