Big Ben Started (1859)

posted Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Great Clock at Westminster Palace began operation on 31 May 1859. Sometimes called “Big Ben” (after the Great Bell that indicates the hour) is certainly the best known clock in the world. It’s tower it the iconic symbol of the British Parliament and the chime sequence it plays on the quarter hour is one of the most widely known tunes in the world.

Construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad begins (1891)

posted Saturday, 30 May 2015

On this day (31 May on the Gregorian calendar, 18 May on the old Julian calendar) at 10:00 AM in area of Kuperovskaya fold in the Siberian city of Vladivostok, a ceremony was held to mark the beginning of construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Heir of throne, Czarevitch Nikolai Alexandrovich (future Emperor Nikolai II) took part. The goal of a single rail line connecting St. Petersburg in the west to Vladivostok in the east was not fully realized until 1916.

First Major Confirmation of General Relativity (1919)

posted Friday, 29 May 2015

Arthur Eddington lead an expedition to the West African island of Principe to observe the deflection of starlight around the sun during an eclipse. The measurements taken agreed with predictions made by the equations of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The resulting media attention that followed the publication of the results transformed Einstein into a world celebrity.

Mount Everest Summited (1953)

posted Friday, 29 May 2015

Mount Everest was conquered as Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal became the first climbers to reach the summit on 29 May 1953.

Chagai I: First official Pakistani nuclear weapon test (1998)

posted Thursday, 28 May 2015

Date: 28 May 1998 (3:16 PM Pakistan Standard Time)
Code name: Chagai I
Type: uranium fission
Yield: 9-12 thousand tons of TNT
Location: Koh Kambaran, Chagai, Pakistan
Earthquake magnitude: 4.8

The test came 17 days after India’s first test of a thermonuclear weapon. The rapid response is evidence that Pakistan had a mature nuclear weapons program that was at least a decade old. In 2008 it was revealed that Pakistan had conducted nuclear weapons tests with the cooperation of the Chinese government in 1990. Therefore this event was not truly the first Pakistani test of a nuclear weapon.

Battle of the Eclipse (585 BC) – The Birth of Science

posted Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (Θαλής ο Μιλήσιος) predicted the occurrence of an eclipse on this day in 585 BC. The eclipse occurred during the Battle of Halys (also known as the Battle of the Eclipse) between a Greek tribe (the Lydians) and a Persian tribe (the Medes). The sight of the sun disappearing brought the battle to a halt and the warring factions made peace immediately.

Thales’ prediction probably played no role whatsoever in the political events of this day. The armies stopped fighting because they thought the eclipse was an omen of bad fortune. They believed the eclipse was supernatural. Thales thought exactly the opposite. He is generally credited with saying something like “every observable effect has a physical cause”.

An eclipse occurs whenever the moon passes between the sun and the earth in such a way that the moon is able to cast a shadow on the earth. The period between such events is roughly 18 years and is known as the Saros cycle. Thales may have known about this cycle or he may have made observations of the moon a few days before the eclipse and projected its path across the face of the sun. I don’t know if anyone knows the answer to this part of the story. What we do know is that Thales did not consult an oracle, or divine the answer by looking at the entrails of a goat, or receive a message from Zeus. He saw the eclipse as a natural event dictated by natural laws and made a testable prediction based on observations. (NASA has a great website that both predicts and retrodicts eclipses.)

Thales of Miletus was the earliest known person to think scientifically. In essence, he was the first scientist. His prediction of the eclipse is the earliest recorded example of hypothesis testing. In essence, it was the first scientific event. This makes 28 May 585 BC the day on which science was born.

First unofficial Pakistani nuclear weapon test (1990)

posted Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Date: 26 May 1990 (4:00 PM China Standard Time)
Code name: unknown
Type: uranium fission
Yield: 40 thousand tons of TNT
Site: Lop Nur, China
Earthquake magnitude: 5.4

The first test of a Pakistani built nuclear weapon was conducted in the Chinese test site of Lop Nur in Xin Jiang. At the time it was thought to be a purely Chinese test and Pakistan’s involvement was not made public until 2008. The first official test of a Pakistani nuclear weapon was conducted 26 May 1998, 17 days after India tested its first thermonuclear weapon.

Star Wars Premiers (1977)

posted Monday, 25 May 2015

The movie Star Wars (later known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) premiered on 25 May 1977. An excellent example of the sub-genre of science fiction known as space opera, it is more fiction than science.

De Revolutionibus Orbium Cœlestium published (1543)

posted Sunday, 24 May 2015

tee shirt
heliocentric tee shirt

Mikołaj Kopernik, usually known by his latinized name Nicolaus Copernicus, was the first astronomer to formally develop a heliocentric model of the solar system. The final version of his theory was published on the day of his death, 24 May 1543, under the title De Revolutionibus Orbium Cœlestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). The most famous line from this book is …

In medio uero omnium residet Sol. (In the center of all rests the Sun.)