Geek Trivia: Date with (incan)destiny

What's the largest explosion ever known to have occurred on July 16 -- a date that has seen two other mind-boggling fireballs already, the detonation of the first atomic bomb and the launch of Apollo 11?

In the United States, it's July 4, or Independence Day. In France, it's July 14, or Bastille Day. In Britain, it's November 5, or Guy Fawkes Night. In Canada, it's Victoria Day; in Australia, it's the Queen's Official Birthday -- both of which vary in exact dates. And for a whole host of countries, it's New Year's Eve. We speak, of course, of the national holidays commemorated by blowing up a whole bunch of stuff... er, igniting fireworks.

That said, for students of explosive history, the far superior International Scientifically Significant Explosions Day (a holiday I just made up) should rightfully take place on July 16. That's because no less than three historically important, scientifically significant, and flat-out gigantic explosions have occurred on this date.

Let's start with the least destructive of the three. Our history lesson begins on July 16, 1969 on tiny Merritt Island, just off the Atlantic coast of central Florida. The explosion lasted roughly 20 minutes and produced enough force to catapult about 130 tons of mass into orbit. Coincidentally, that's exactly what happened, as we're speaking of the Saturn V rocket launch that put Apollo 11 into space and set the kinetic dominoes into motion that would have men walking on the moon four days later.

That explosion -- sustained and controlled as it was -- ranks as a mere piker compared to the July 16, 1945 detonation that vaporized a not-insignificant portion of land 30 miles southeast of Socorro, NM. This beauty of a blast let rip with 87.5 terajoules of energy, the equivalent of 20 kilotons of TNT.

Sound familiar? That's because we're speaking of the Trinity test, which set off the first atomic bomb in human history, the so-called gadget device created by the Manhattan Project.

Both of the aforementioned blowups, however, pale in comparison to the king-daddy of all July 16 fireballs -- one that burned more than four times hotter than the surface of the sun.


Get the answer.