May 31, 1819. Walt Whitman might not have approved of having his birthday listed among great dates in science. After all, he was a poet.
This Date in Science
May 25, 1961. On this date, President John F. Kennedy gave a stirring speech before a joint session of Congress, in which he declared his intention to focus U.S. efforts on landing humans on the moon within a decade. His words ignited the work of a decade, in achieving the dream of a moon landing. Among other things, he said:
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
Full text of Kennedy’s speech inside.
May 18, 2013. On this date astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) captured three beautiful views of Pavlof Volcano, part of the Aleutian Arc, with a handheld Nikon D3S digital camera. As the volcano poured out lava and shot ash 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) into the air, the astronauts managed to capture these seldom-seen oblique views of the volcano, which are very different from the top-down views of most unmanned satellites.
May 6, 1968. More than a year before he became the first human to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong had a narrow escape in the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston. The LLRV had been designed to simulate a descent to the moon’s surface, and all the lunar astronauts trained in it. That day, while Armstrong was piloting, a leaking propellant caused a total failure of his flight controls …
April 3, 1837. John Burroughs – born on today’s date in 1837 – was one of the first naturalists who focused on communicating his love of nature through the written word. You might think you haven’t heard of Burroughs, but you’ve probably heard of some of the things he said. For example:
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
He was one of the first to say in print:
If you think you can do it, you can.
And he said:
To me – old age is always ten years older than I am.
March 27, 1964. On this date, at 5:36 p.m. local time, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake struck in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska, causing extensive initial damage and a subsequent tsunami. In Anchorage, dozens of blocks of buildings were leveled or damaged. Valdez, closest to the epicenter, was destroyed. The quake is now known as the Good Friday Earthquake.
Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879. He published his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905 and his General Theory of Relativity in 1916. His work capped off the work of several previous centuries of science … and launched modern physics.
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.
March 6, 2014. On this date, The Astrophysical Journal Letters published a study of the first-ever-seen breakup of an asteroid. The asteroid had been discovered in September, 2013. It was designated P/2013 R3. Subsequent observations showed not one, but three bodies traveling together. They were surrounded by a dusty envelope nearly as wide as the Earth. Then the Hubble Space Telescope was used to look at this object … and … wow!
February 24, 1987. When Supernova 1987A first appeared in earthly skies – during the night of February 23-24, 1987 – astronomers were beside themselves with delight. It was the closest observed supernova since 1604. In this shining pinpoint in our sky, those fortunate to be in Earth’s Southern Hemisphere (in whose sky the supernova appeared) could see the death throes of a giant star. The new star remained visible to the eye for many months. It has been studied by astronomers for decades since. Follow the links inside to learn more about Supernova 1987A.