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The Sound So Loud That It Circled the Earth Four Times

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On 27 August 1883, the Earth let out a noise louder than any it has made since.

It was 10:02 a.m. local time when the sound emerged from the island of Krakatoa, which sits between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. It was heard 1,300 miles away in the Andaman and Nicobar islands (“extraordinary sounds were heard, as of guns firing”); 2,000 miles away in New Guinea and Western Australia (“a series of loud reports, resembling those of artillery in a north-westerly direction”); and even 3,000 miles away in the Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, near Mauritius* (“coming from the eastward, like the distant roar of heavy guns.” 1) In all, it was heard by people in over 50 different geographical locations, together spanning an area covering a thirteenth of the globe.

Think, for a moment, just how crazy this is. If you’re in Boston and someone tells you that they heard a sound coming from New York City, you’re probably going to give them a funny look. But Boston is a mere 200 miles from New York. What we’re talking about here is like being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Traveling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about 4 hours to cover that distance. This is the most distant sound that has ever been heard in recorded history.

So what could possibly create such an earth-shatteringly loud bang? A volcano on Krakatoa had just erupted with a force so great that it tore the island apart, emitting a plume of smoke that reached 17 miles into the atmosphere, according to a geologist who witnessed it1. You could use this observation to calculate that stuff spewed out of the volcano at over 1,600 miles per hour—or nearly half a mile per second. That’s more than twice the speed of sound.

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https://pocket-image-cache.com/direct?resize=w2000&url=http%3A%2F%2Fstatic.nautil.us%2F4363_c0a62e133894cdce435bcb4a5df1db2d.jpgA lithograph of the massive 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. From The eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena, 1888; Parker & Coward; via Wikipedia.

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