April 10, 1815. Mount Tambora began a large volcanic eruption on this date. This volcano – on Sumbawa Island, east of Java in what is today Indonesia – ultimately dumped an estimated 160 cubic kilometers (38 cubic miles) of melted rock and ash onto the surrounding countryside and into the air. By some estimates, it was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history.
This Date in Science
March 13, 1781. The 7th planet – Uranus – was discovered on this date, completely by accident. British astronomer William Herschel was performing a survey of all the stars that were of magnitude 8 – in other words, too faint to see with the eye – or brighter. That’s when he noticed an object that moved in front of the star background over time, clearly demonstrating it was closer to us than the distant stars. He surmised this object was orbiting the sun and that it was a new planet – the first discovered since ancient times.
February 20, 1962: John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. He made three turns around the planet before returning safely in his spacecraft, Friendship 7.
February 19, 1473. Nicolaus Copernicus was born on this date, 541 years ago. Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer and mathematician. He lived at a time when people believed Earth lay enclosed within crystal spheres at the center of the universe. Can you picture the leap of imagination required for him to conceive of a sun-centered universe? The publication of Copernicus’ book – De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) – just before his death in 1543, set the stage for all of modern astronomy. Today, people speak of his work as the Copernican Revolution.
February 9, 1913. One hundred and one years ago today, a strange meteor sighting occurred over Canada, the U.S. Northeast, Bermuda and some ships at sea, including one off Brazil. What happened that night is sometimes called the Great Meteor Procession of 1913, and it sparked decades of debate concerning what actually happened.
January 30, 1826. Workers completed construction of the first modern suspension bridge on this date. It was the Menai Bridge between Wales on the island of Great Britain and the smaller island of Anglesey, to the west. According to local reports about the bridge from nearly 200 years ago, travel in the strait between Wales and Anglesey was hazardous, due to shifting currents and unpredictable weather patterns. But the island of Anglesey had the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west, and, especially after Ireland joined the United Kingdom in 1800, people increasingly wanted to use Anglesey as a jumping off point to reach the Emerald Isle by ferry boat.
January 28, 1986. On today’s date, the Space Shuttle Challenger (mission STS-51-L) exploded and broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff. The explosion led to the deaths of all seven Challenger crew members.
January 23, 1978. On this date, Sweden announced it would ban aerosol sprays containing chlorofluorocarbons as the propelling agent. It was the first country in the world to do so. At the time, evidence had increasingly suggested that chlorofluorocarbons were damaging Earth ozone layer. The U.S. announced it would ban flurocarbon gases in aerosol products on October 15, 1978.
January, 23, 1960. On this date, the submersible vehicle Trieste made a record-setting dive to the deepest surveyed part of the ocean. Trieste was a bathyscaphe – “deep boat” – owned by the U.S. Navy. It was a free-diving, self-propelled deep-sea submersible, and it dove – with two crew members aboard – into the Marianas Trench east of the Philippines, whose deepest portion is called the Challenger Deep. It took nine hours to descend 6.83 miles (10,911 meters) to the deepest ocean. Afterwards, nobody returned to Challenger Deep for 52 years, until Titanic director James Cameron descended successfully on March 26, 2012.
Cameron plans to turn his solo diving experience into a 3-D feature film.
Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard designed the Trieste and built it in Italy. His son, Jacques Piccard (who was also a Swiss scientist) and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh were on board for the record-setting dive to Challenger Deep.
January 2, 1959. Trailing orange sodium gas, the Luna 1 spacecraft broke free of Earth’s gravity on this date, to head towards the moon.