Skip To Content

    21 Things I Learned This Week That Sound Unbelievable, But Are 100% True

    The only known case of a meteorite striking a person, and much more.

    1. In the early 1800s, William Burke and his friend William Hare realized that Edinburgh University medical school would pay for cadavers, so they concocted a sinister plan to make money. Hare, a landlord, would rent to Edinburgh's poor community; Burke would then get the tenant drunk and suffocate them by covering their nose and mouth, which wouldn't leave any markings or signs of struggle — this killing method would come to be called "Burking."

    A skeleton of William Burke in a glass case
    David Cheskin - Pa Images / PA Images via Getty Images

    Burke and Hare are believe to have killed, at minimum, 16 people, though the body count is likely far higher. When the pair were finally caught, Hare was offered immunity to testify against Burke, who was ultimately found guilty and hanged. His body — much like the bodies of his victims — was donated to science. Rumor has it the anatomy students who dissected him kept parts of his corpse, and even used his flesh to bind their books. The photo above depicts William Burke's actual skeleton, which is on display at the Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh.

    2. This is Frederick Fleet. He was the lookout for the Titanic on the night it sank and the first to spot the iceberg in its path, which he described as "a black object, high above the water, right ahead." According to him, his first attempts to report the sighting went unanswered. By the time his messages were finally received, a mere *minute* before striking the iceberg, it was too late. That night, as he sat in a lifeboat and watched the ship sink, he allegedly expressed concern that he would be blamed — and his fears were somewhat well-founded; an official inquiry would dispute the timeline of events he provided. Frederick Fleet would spend the rest of his remaining 53 years of life consumed by guilt.

    A young Frederick Fleet in a newsboy cap
    Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

    3. Amber fossils have offered us some of the most fascinating and unusual glimpses of everyday, prehistoric life. From a feathered dinosaur tail with its soft tissue intact to a prehistoric tableau of a spider making a meal of a wasp, tree sap seemed to ensnare these animals at the most unexpected and inopportune moments. But perhaps no animal expected it less than this 99 million-year-old daddy longlegs with an erect penis — yes, you read that correctly. This cousin of today's daddy longlegs spider died, and was perfectly preserved, with a full erection:

    JASON DUNLOP

    4. In 2012, a French beekeeper noticed that his bees were producing honey in the most unusual and unnatural colors. Other beekeepers in the area were experiencing a similar issue, so they banded together to investigate the cause. Eventually it was discovered that the local bees were visiting a nearby M&M's factory and feasting on discarded shells (hence the colors). This honey was ultimately deemed to be of a much lower quality than standard honey, and all of it was thrown out.

    Four jars of honey in four different colors
    Vincent Kessler / Reuters

    5. June 4 marked 32 years since the Chinese government in Beijing cracked down on peaceful, pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. One powerful and enduring image in particular would come to represent the tragedy. It's simply called "Tank Man," and it depicts a lone man carrying nothing but shopping bags facing down a line of tanks. When the tanks attempted to drive around him, he side-stepped, refusing to let them pass. To this day, Tank Man has never been officially identified, though some unconfirmed reports claim it was 19-year-old student Wang Weilin. His fate is also unknown; some claim he was arrested and subsequently executed, while others believe — hope — that he made it out alive and managed to live a life of relative safety and anonymity.

    Tank man staring down a line of tanks as he block their path
    Archive Photos / Getty Images

    In the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests, the Chinese government announced a death toll of 200 civilians, but more recent estimates suggest that as many as 10,000 people were killed. Though Tank Man's bravery is known the world over, this image — along with any mention of what transpired there — is  heavily censored in China. 

    6. Though this story has never been officially confirmed as fact, that hasn't stopped it from spreading like wildfire — and despite its ubiquity, it's never been refuted either. Rumor has it that a few family members of Al Capone got sick after drinking expired milk in the 1930s, so the notorious gangster threw his immense influence behind a campaign to get expiration dates added to milk bottles. Capone may very well be the reason that all milk sold in the US today is dated.

    Al Capone's mug shot
    Hulton Archive / Getty Images

    7. There's only a single documented case of a meteorite striking a person. It happened in 1954 to a woman named Ann Hodges. She was taking a nap one November afternoon when, suddenly, a 9-pound (4-kilogram) meteorite blasted through her ceiling. Fortunately, it first hit the radio before bouncing off and hitting her — a direct impact might've killed her — but it still left a very painful bruise:

    Ann Hodges lying in bed while her doctor displays the large bruise on her hip
    Jay Leviton / The LIFE Images

    8. There's a small aluminum plaque on the Moon that commemorates astronauts and cosmonauts who have died in the line of duty. It's called "The Fallen Astronaut," and it was placed there — along with the small figurine in front of it — in 1971 during the Apollo 15 mission.

    A small metal plaque stuck simply in moon dirt
    NASA

    Here are the names listed on the plaque: 

    Charles A. Bassett II

    Pavel I. Belyayev

    Roger B. Chaffee

    Georgi Dobrovolsky

    Theodore C. Freeman

    Yuri A. Gagarin

    Edward G. Givens Jr.

    Virgil I. Grissom

    Vladimir Komarov

    Viktor Patsayev

    Elliot M. See Jr.

    Vladislav Volkov

    Edward H. White II

    Clifton C. Williams Jr.

    9. This is former Air Force engineer and NASA rocket scientist Lonnie Johnson. A self described "tinkerer," he helped send the Galileo and Cassini satellites to Jupiter, assisted in the development of the B-2 Stealth Bomber, designed the technology that became the basis for CDs and DVDs (which he didn't think to patent), and much, much more — oh, and he also invented one of the bestselling toys of all time: the Super Soaker. Here he is posing with the first prototype he ever created made of PVC tubes and a two-liter soda bottle:

    Lonnie Johnson holding the super soaker prototype
    Mike Mcgregor / Contour by Getty Images

    10. The wedge-tailed eagle is the largest bird of prey found in Australia. The females, which are larger than the males, can weigh close to 12 pounds (5.3 kilograms) and have a 7.5-foot wingspan (2.3 meters). Though individually they go after mostly rabbits and other similarly sized prey, in groups they've been known to take down adult kangaroos. Wedge-tailed eagles are also highly territorial, and there have been documented cases of these raptors attacking small planes and helicopters that encroach on their nesting sites.

    A female wedge-tailed eagle perched in a tree
    Chameleonseye / Getty Images/iStockphoto

    11. While women have been wearing wedding rings for many millennia, a tradition that can be traced back to ancient Egypt, the same can't be said for men. In fact, the shift occurred very recently; it wasn't until World War II that wearing wedding rings became the norm for Western men.

    A man's hand with a wedding ring
    Le Club Symphonie / Getty Images/Cultura RF

    12. Did you know Edgar Allan Poe's death is still an unsolved mystery? Most believe he simply drank himself to death — and he very well might have — but it's worth considering the unusual circumstances of the famous writer's final week. Five days before he was found, Poe was supposed to be boarding a train for Philadelphia to edit another writer's collection of poems. From there he would head to New York, his home at the time, where he was to meet his aunt and ride with her to Richmond, Virginia, for his own wedding. He had a lot of important (and personal) business to attend to, and yet he wasn't seen or heard from until he was found in a gutter, delirious, disoriented, and wearing another man's clothes — Poe had never left Baltimore. His autopsy found that he had died of a swollen brain, and some theories suggest he was murdered.

    Edgar Allan Poe posing for a photo
    Mpi / Getty Images

    13. Researchers estimate that there used to be between 10 to 50 times more sharks swimming in Earth's oceans, and a far greater diversity of species as well. So what happened? Well, 19 million years ago there was a great extinction event that wiped most of them out — the most devastating extinction event since the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. What caused it is still a mystery.

    A shark swimming toward the camera
    Gerard Soury / Getty Images

    14. Scientists in China have set a new world record. Using a fusion reactor called the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (pictured below) — or, more informally, the "artificial sun" — they managed to heat plasma to a temperature of 216 million degrees Fahrenheit (120 million degrees Celsius) for a sustained period of 101 seconds, and then to a whopping 288 million degrees Fahrenheit (160 million degrees Celsius) for 20 seconds. Their goal is to replicate the energy-generating conditions that occur inside stars, and in so doing they achieved a temperature that's over 10 times hotter than the core of our own Sun.

    A large metal reactor that almost looks like an enormous engine
    Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    15. This is the Hydnellum peckii, more commonly called the Bleeding Tooth Fungus — aka the Devil's Tooth. Despite its horrifying name (and appearance), this mushroom isn't toxic. It is, however, extremely bitter and therefore not pleasant to eat.

    A fungus on the forest floor covered in droplets of what looks like blood
    Julija Kumpinovica / Getty Images/iStockphoto

    16. Naked mole rats are really strange animals, and not just because of their appearance. For one, they live in really close-knit underground colonies that have very specific dialects — both for identifying other members of their own colony and for rooting out intruders who don't belong. Each colony's dialect is determined by their queen, around which all colony-life revolves. In an interview with Science News, one researcher compared it to "living in an oppressive regime." Another bizarre fact about naked mole rats is that, according to recent studies, their mortality rate doesn't increase as they get older (like every other known mammal), which has left researchers wondering if they even age at all.

    A naked mole rat
    Globalp / Getty Images/iStockphoto

    17. This photo of Albert Einstein's office at Princeton was taken on the very same day he died. Everything is exactly as he left it:

    Equations written on a chalkboard that overlook a messy desk scattered with papers
    Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

    18. There's something oddly terrifying about underwater sinkholes, which are simply called "blue holes." It wasn't until recently that efforts were made to study them, given how dangerous they can be to explore. Blue holes, which are often shaped like an inverse hourglass and can therefore be much wider than their openings would lead you to believe, can run pretty deep. They're also home to all kinds of marine life.

    (c)andrew Hounslea / Getty Images, Ullstein Bild / ullstein bild via Getty Images

    19. Coconut crabs love to steal. In fact, they're such notorious thieves that they're also called "robber crabs." If something is shiny — or smelly — enough, and within reach, a coconut crab will just take it. One researcher reported an expensive thermal camera stolen that she had left out overnight to film Christmas Island wildlife, and she knows humans aren't the culprit. And at a family BBQ, a staggering 52 crabs showed up uninvited and went straight for the food.

    A massive coconut crab, which are presumably named for their resemblance to a bunch of coconuts, climbing a tree
    Kevin Schafer / Getty Images

    20. Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar was an 18th-century Persian emperor who united Iran and established the Qajar dynasty, which would rule until the early 20th century. He was known for his cruelty and his violent determination to remain in power, which is partly why the lapse of judgment that led to his death was so unusual. After two servants got into a noisy argument with one another, Shah Agha Mohammad sentenced them both to death, but since it was the Sabbath he postponed the execution until the following day. Instead of locking them up, he put them back to work; and instead of going back to work, they murdered the Shah in his sleep.

    A mosaic of Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar
    Heritage Images / Getty Images

    Lastly, a grosser-than-usual frog fact:

    21. The substance pictured below is called "star jelly," which got its name because it was once believed to have fallen from the heavens, remnants of shooting stars and the like. In reality, it's far grosser than that. Star jelly is basically a mucus-y substance found in the ovaries of frogs and toads, and when birds eat these amphibians, sometimes they'll puke it up.

    A transluscent jelly sitting on a tree stump
    Matauw / Getty Images/iStockphoto

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

    BuzzFeed Daily

    Keep up with the latest daily buzz with the BuzzFeed Daily newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form