13 of the Most Bizarre Events of 2020 (That Have Nothing to Do with the Pandemic)

This year has been exhausting—and really weird.

At this point, it has become a late-December social media ritual to post about how long, difficult, and bizarre the past year has been, along with your hopes that the following year will be better. But this type of sentiment about 2020 began back in March, and the year has only brought with it more challenges since then, many of which are centered on the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has already resulted in more than one million deaths worldwide. Beyond the loss of life, the novel coronavirus has also caused major shifts in how we work, eat, spend moneytravel, and more. Oh, and there’s been a lot going on in politics this year, too. (How’s that for an understatement?)

But while the pandemic and election have dominated the year’s headlines, plenty of other things have happened, some of which are especially odd. Here are 13 of the most bizarre events of 2020 that have nothing to do with the pandemic. Brace yourself—it’s a lot, and yes, it all somehow happened in this very weird year. All that said, here’s why 2020 might have been the wake-up call we needed.

Murder hornets made their way to the United States

Closeup macro of Japanese giant hornet faceKagenmi/Getty Images

Back in May, we found out about a terrifying winged creature called the “murder hornet” that had been spotted in the United States. Technically referred to as Asian giant hornets, the New York Times reported that the insects “can use mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins to wipe out a honeybee hive in a matter of hours, decapitating the bees and flying away with the thoraxes to feed their young.” If they’re going for a bigger target, “the hornet’s potent venom and stinger—long enough to puncture a beekeeping suit—make for an excruciating combination that victims have likened to hot metal driving into their skin.”

In late October, local officials in Washington state destroyed the first murder hornet nest spotted in the country, though chances are, there are still plenty of others out there. Poor taste or not, here are 25 jokes the Internet is making about murder hornets.

The Pentagon released three videos of UFOs

When news broke in April that the U.S. Department of Defense had reportedly released three Navy videos of unidentified flying objects (UFOs), it seemed too strange—even for 2020. Two of the videos had been making the rounds on the Internet since 2017, while the other one has been around since 2007. But, up until the Pentagon issued a statement confirming that all three videos are indeed real, there was some controversy over their authenticity. Now we know they are legitimate Navy videos, but we still don’t know what they show. “The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified,'” the Department of Defense said in a statement on April 27. Here are a few other examples of UFO sightings no one can explain.

People were obsessed with Tiger King

Wild Animal Sanctuary In Colorado Home To Almost 40 Tigers From Wildly Popular Documentary Of Joe Exotic "Tiger King"Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

While there have been plenty of extremely popular true-crime docuseries over the past decade, few have had as expansive an influence as Netflix’s Tiger King. Though it was officially released on March 10—and plenty of people watched it right away—the fact that so many of us were on lockdown this spring, thanks to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, meant that we were spending basically all of our time at home and had the chance to dig into this seven-episode series. The combination of colorful characters—namely, Joe Exotic (the eponymous “Tiger King”) and his rival, Carole Baskin—with a glimpse inside the world of exotic zoos, as well as murder, mullets, and questionable treatment of animals was like a car wreck we couldn’t turn away from, and it catapulted both Exotic and Baskin to national fame.

A high school student discovered a new planet

Only a few days into 2020, news broke that NASA had identified a new planet. Specifically, a 17-year-old high school student discovered the planet on the third day of his internship with NASA. And it wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill planet: Named TOI 1338 b, it’s 6.9 times larger than Earth, orbits two stars instead of one every 95 days, and is 1,300 light-years away. The discovery was especially exciting for Star Wars fans, who saw similarities between the new planet and Luke Skywalker’s home world of Tatooine, which featured double sunsets. While you’re learning about space, check out these spooky (but fascinating) facts about the moon.

Megxit rocked the British royal family

The Duke And Duchess Of Sussex Visit Canada HouseChris Jackson/Getty Images

From the time we’re children, we’re bombarded with fairy tales that feature a helpless princess being rescued by and then marrying a handsome prince. They couple then moves into the castle and, of course, lives happily ever after. While that’s a total lie for many reasons, confirmation of that came in January 2020, when Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, announced that they were giving up their titles and working to become financially independent from the royal family. Dubbed “Megxit” in the media, many blamed Meghan for “breaking up” the British monarchy, comparing her to Yoko Ono and Wallis Simpson. There are, however, also a few other popular theories behind Harry and Meghan’s royal resignation.

Though it’s not yet clear whether the Sussexes have achieved their “happily ever after,” they are now living in California and have signed a multi-year deal with Netflix to produce a range of content for the streaming giant. Still not entirely sure how everyone’s related? This royal family tree chart explains it all.

A massive star went missing

So far, 2020 has been a strange year for space, between the discovery of a new planet and the Pentagon confirming the authenticity of videos of UFOs. On top of all that, scientists discovered that a giant star has seemingly disappeared. They think it may have collapsed into a black hole, instead of exploding as a supernova. “If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner,” Andrew Allan, a PhD student at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, and the lead author of the paper published on this finding, told Forbes. This is significant because it’s still unclear how, exactly, stars of this size die. Here are another 12 of the most amazing space discoveries of the last decade.

The broom challenge hoax went viral

Broom Challenge PhotoSky Cloud Pics/Getty Images

For the most part, 2020 has been too busy for viral Internet challenges, but there’s one notable exception to that from February. It was called the “broom challenge,” and the premise was that according to NASA, on February 10 (and that day only), a broom would be able to stand up straight on its bristles because of the specific type of gravitational pull on that date. Turns out, none of it was true. First of all, the claim was that this trick would work because of the planet’s gravitational pull on the vernal equinox. However, the spring equinox wasn’t until March 19. And, not surprisingly, NASA never issued any sort of message about this. While we’re on the subject, can you really balance an egg on the spring equinox? We found out.

Poland accidentally invaded the Czech Republic

Thanks to the events of World Wars I and II, you can’t blame people for being concerned when one European country invades another. That is, unless it was done by accident. That’s precisely what happened in May, when the Polish military mistakenly invaded and briefly occupied territory in the Czech Republic. “According to our information, the case was discussed by the authorities responsible for border protection on the Polish and Czech sides,” the ministry’s press office said in a statement, NPR reported. “In the spirit of good Polish-Czech relations, we believe that this was only a minor misunderstanding that was quickly cleared up.” The unintentional invasion was resolved almost immediately.

A puppy was born with green fur

In October 2020, an Italian farmer’s dog gave birth to a litter of five puppies—including one that had green fur. If this happened in March, it might have been safe to assume that this was some sort of St. Patrick’s Day prank, but there’s actually a scientific explanation behind the pup’s unusual coloring. In this case, it appears as though the white puppy—named Pistachio—came in contact with biliverdin, a green pigment, in its mother’s womb. Eventually, as the baby dog grows up, it’s thought that its green color will fade. Check out these adorable puppy pictures that will make you melt.

A court ruled that Subway bread isn’t actually bread

Subway Settles Not-Really Foot Long Sandwich LitigationJoe Raedle/Getty Images

The Subway sandwich chain has one of the most distinctive fast-food smells around since they bake their own bread in-house. But, as it turns out, the rolls in their ovens aren’t technically considered bread—at least according to Ireland’s Supreme Court. On October 1, the court ruled that all of the roll options available at Subways in Ireland—white bread, Italian, nine-grain wheat, honey oat, Italian herbs and cheese, nine-grain multi-seed, and hearty Italian—contain 10 percent sugar, which is too high to be legally considered “bread.” A spokesperson for the sandwich chain issued a statement clarifying that “Subway’s bread is, of course, bread.” Learn more about how Subway became the world’s largest fast-food chain.

You could scream in Iceland without making the trip

Pandemic or not, most people could use some stress relief, and in July 2020, Iceland’s tourism board offered that to the rest of the world in the form of scream therapy. Sure, you could just scream into your pillow, but through the country’s “Let It Out” program, anyone can record their best blood-curdling scream on their phone, tablet, or laptop, and have it played on a loudspeaker somewhere in Icelandic nature. It’s free and easy to participate in this ongoing program, and it’s not too late to let your scream loose from a picturesque mountaintop or waterfall. There is also a feature on the website that allows you to listen to other people’s screams, in case that would make you feel better.

An Austrian tourist damaged a 200-year-old statue while taking a photo

Antonio Canova Exhibition “Eternal Beauty” Portrays Sculptor's Love Of RomeAntonio Masiello/Getty Images

For many people, documenting their trips through photos is an important part of their travels. And while some stick to landscapes, others opt for some of the many tried-and-true tourist poses designed to impress friends and family back home, like the ones where a person looks like they’re holding up a well-known structure like the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Another classic involves someone standing next to a statue and recreating its pose. Unfortunately, this is exactly what an Austrian man was doing in August when he damaged a 200-year-old sculpture in Italy. The incident took place at the Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno, and according to museum officials, the man was leaning up against the sculpture and attempting to strike the same pose, which resulted in several toes breaking off of the original plaster of Paolina Borghese Bonaparte As Venus Victrix, which was commissioned in 1804 by Prince Camillo Borghese. This is bad, yes, but is it the worst? Decide for yourself after checking out these other stories about the worst tourists.

Mystery seeds arrived from China

Starting in July, U.S. residents in all 50 states began receiving unsolicited packages from China containing unidentified seeds. Immediately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued warnings, urging people not to plant the mystery seeds, fearing they were some type of invasive species. By August, the agency had identified at least 14 species of seeds that had been sent over from China, including mustard, cabbage, morning glory, mint, sage, rosemary, lavender, hibiscus, and rose. Two months later, the USDA had identified approximately 5,000 seed species coming from 44 countries of origin.

Ultimately, the USDA noticed two trends. The first was cases where people did, in fact, order seeds online but didn’t expect them to come from a foreign country. The second was that many of the seeds were sent as part of an Internet “brushing” scam, which is one part of the process where merchants invent fake customers and positive reviews to boost their sales. In these cases, the reviews won’t go through unless there is evidence that the transaction is completed. To get to that point, the company sends cheap items—like seeds—to strangers. If you’re interested in some legitimate seeds, here are 12 of the easiest foods to grow at home.

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Elizabeth Yuko
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer specializing in health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for print and online publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Salon and Playboy, and has given a TEDX talk on The Golden Girls and bioethics.