Some historical questions - often the ones no one ever asks because they don't seem important enough - can leave your brain with a nagging, lingering unease. For example, did Pilgrims really wear buckles on their hats? And what does "District of Columbia" actually mean?
We've asked some of these questions and found satisfying - and at times, surprising - answers. Vote up the ones you're glad someone asked and answered, finally putting your mind at ease - and making a trip to Washington, DC, much more satisfying.
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What Does It Mean When A Country's Name Ends In '-stan'?
The names of seven countries in the world end with the suffix "-stan": Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. Afghanistan became an independent country during the early 20th century, while Pakistan came to be with the partition of India in 1947. The remaining countries were officially recognized after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
All seven countries have names that end in "-stan" because of Central Asia's linguistic history. The word "-stan" derives from Persian and means "land" or "country." So, Kazakhstan is "the land of the Kazakhs" and Uzbekistan is "the land of the Uzbeks," with the others following suit.
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What's The Difference Between An Asteroid And A Meteor?
An asteroid is a rock that orbits the sun, while a meteor - or meteorite - is smaller and comes off of an asteroid (or comet) before falling to the Earth. Entering the Earth's atmosphere changes the designation of a rocky space object from asteroid to meteor or meteorite.
The distinction between a meteor and a meteorite results from what happens to that object in the atmosphere. A meteor dissolves and becomes a shooting star, while a meteorite lands on the Earth's surface.
One more type of space object can be seen from Earth: Bolides are meteors that burst in the atmosphere to look like fireballs.
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How Dangerous Is Quicksand?
Quicksand does, in fact, exist, but popular cultural representations misconstrue how it functions. Quicksand is made up of sand, silt, clay, or some comparable grainy substance mixed with water. It usually appears near bodies of water, and when it gets agitated from a change in pressure or a shock, it becomes like a sinkhole.
Movies and television shows indicate resisting quicksand only increases its sucking qualities, rendering it more deadly. There's no evidence a human can become entirely submerged in quicksand, but being trapped in the murky substance can limit mobility and result in harm from animals, the weather, or rising tides.
The best way to survive quicksand, according to physicist Daniel Bonn, "is to introduce water into the sand, and if you can do that along your leg by wiggling your leg around, that is the best way to get out."
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As a major figure in Russian politics during the early 20th century, Leon Trotsky headed the Red Army after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Despite a relationship with Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin that was tense at times, Trotsky thought he would take over the party when Lenin perished in 1924. Josefph Stalin had other plans.
Once Lenin passed, Stalin worked to expel Trotsky from the Communist Party and, ultimately, from the Soviet Union. After leaving the Soviet Union, Trotsky spent time in Turkey, France, and Norway. He ultimately took refuge in Mexico City.
Through the late 1920s and early 1930s, Trotsky was vocally critical of Stalin and the Soviet government. This made him a constant target of Stalin's machinations. In May 1940, a group of gunmen sent by Stalin went after Trotsky, but he evaded them. Trotsky was unable to escape in August 1940 when Ramón Mercader (also known as Frank Jacson) stabbed him in the head with an icepick.
Trotsky's grandson, Esteban Volkov, was living with his grandfather at the time and recalled what he saw that day:
When I went into the study, I saw Lev Davidovich [Trotsky] wounded, lying on the ground, but the guards and others stopped me from going any closer. My grandfather had said: "Don't let Seva in, the child mustn't see this."
Trotsky perished one day after the incident, on August 21, 1940.
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What's The Youngest Country In The World?
When South Sudan, formally known as the Republic of South Sudan, seceded from Sudan in 2011, it was done by referendum. The recognition of South Sudan's independence on the global stage made it the 54th country in Africa and the newest country in the world. South Sudan became a member of the United Nations in July 2011.
In 2019, the island of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands voted for independence from Papua New Guinea. While Bougainville Island currently functions as an autonomous region, as of May 2021, it has yet to negotiate terms with Papua New Guinea.
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How Many Nobel Prizes Are There?
The Nobel Foundation gives out five prizes annually. Nobel Prizes, in accordance with benefactor and namesake Alfred Nobel, honor "those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind."
Nobel's will referenced five categories: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The latter is awarded to "the person who has done the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the establishment and promotion of peace congresses."
A sixth prize, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize for economic sciences, was established in 1968 in honor of the memory of Alfred Nobel.