The first edition of the National Geographic Magazine was published by the National Geographic Society.
The National Geographic Society was established in Washington D.C. in January 1888. Founded by just thirty-three men, the Society’s first President was the lawyer and financier Gardiner Greene Hubbard whose lay interest in science and geography perfectly embodied the Society’s creation ‘for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge’.
Nine months after the Society’s foundation, the first edition of its journal was sent to its 165 charter members. Consisting mostly of short technical articles, the magazine struggled to increase its readership for the first few years of its existence. Following the election of Alexander Graham Bell as President and the appointment of the new editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the early 1900s saw the magazine begin to focus more on pictorial content. Although criticised by some members of the Board of Managers for being ‘unscientific’, the increasing use of often pioneering photographs soon helped to secure a much wider audience.
Initially only available to members of the National Geographic Society, the magazine is now available to purchase on newsstands and through direct subscription around the world. The creation of nearly 40 different local-language editions has resulted in a global circulation of more than 6.5 million copies per month, reaching an estimated 60 million readers. Revenue from sales of the magazine help to fund scientific expeditions and scientific research as well as sponsor travelling exhibitions, making the National Geographic Society one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational organisations in the world.
Shortly after midnight in Moscow, the Soviets became the first to successfully send a human-made object to the Moon.
The Luna 2 probe was developed under the supervision of Sergei Korolev. Korolev was the Chief Designer of the Soviet space program, and he had previously created the R-7 Rocket that launched both the Sputnik 1 satellite and Laika the dog in to space.
The Soviets had attempted to reach the Moon earlier in 1959 with Luna 1, but this probe missed its target due to a malfunction on the ground that caused an error in its rocket’s burn time. With the problem fixed, the spherical design of Luna 2 was almost identical to its predecessor. Numerous antennas and instruments protruded from the probe to measure and transmit data about radiation, magnetic fields and meteorites.
The original launch on 9 September was aborted due to the core booster failing to reach full thrust at ignition, but a replacement was successfully installed for the rescheduled launch three days later. Travelling in a direct path to the Moon, rather than entering orbit first, Luna 2 reached its destination less than 36 hours after launch.
Having monitored the signals coming from Luna 2 on its journey, Soviet scientists correctly predicted that the satellite would crash into the Moon shortly after midnight on 14 September. It was clear that the mission had been a success when the signals suddenly stopped.
Luna 2 was seized upon as pro-communist propaganda, but also opened the way for American developments in the Space Race that intensified over the next decade. Just twelve years later this culminated in astronaut Neil Armstrong becoming the first person to walk on the Moon’s surface.
On the 11th September 1978, Janet Parker became the last recorded person in the world to die from smallpox. Parker was a medical photographer working at the University of Birmingham Medical School who was infected with smallpox from a nearby lab that is believed to have been spread by air currents through service ducts within the building.
At the time of her infection, the World Health Organisation had almost completed its successful international smallpox eradication programme. Although the last naturally occurring infection had been recorded the previous year, various laboratories around the world – including one at the University of Birmingham Medical School – were continuing research on strains of the virus that were a threat to eradicating the disease.
Parker’s darkroom in the hospital was directly above a laboratory where research on live smallpox viruses was carried out. It’s believed that the virus had spread from the laboratory while being handled on the 24th and 25th July, when Parker is known to have spent longer than normal in the room where the ducting connected.
Parker became ill on the 11th August, but nine days passed before she was admitted to hospital and her infection was identified as smallpox. Transferred to the Catherine-de-Barnes Isolation Hospital outside Solihull, she and a number of other people with whom she had had close contact were placed in quarantine. Parker died on the 11th September, but her death was preceded by that of her father – who died of cardiac arrest shortly after visiting his daughter – and the suicide of the scientist in charge of the laboratory at the University of Birmingham.
Thomas Edison began operating the first permanent commercial electrical power plant in New York.
Edison created his incandescent light bulb in October 1879, and was quick to realise that he also had to develop a system to generate and distribute the required electricity to consumers.
Having successfully installed a number of smaller private systems in both the United States and Britain, Edison bought two adjoining commercial buildings on Pearl Street in the area known as the First District in New York to house his commercial power plant.
Installing the six dynamos and their coal-powered reciprocating steam engines was a significant technical challenge, but one of the most expensive aspects of the venture was the laying of almost 100,000 feet of wiring in specially-dug underground conduits.
By the time the system was ready to begin operation on 4 September 1882, Edison had signed up around 80 customers with a total of 400 light bulbs. The New York Times, one of the first users, described the “soft, mellow” light in a short article the next day. However the inauguration of the world’s first commercial power plant did not receive the media fanfare many might have expected, and the report was filed under ‘Miscellaneous City News.’
While Edison’s customer base increased to almost 500 users within twelve months of the Pearl Street Station opening, it ran at a loss for the first two years. The system did, however, generate demand for electrical energy elsewhere and kick-started the electrical age. The shortcomings of Edison’s direct current soon became apparent, however, as it was prohibitively expensive to provide such power over long distances. Within just a few years, competitors using high voltage alternating current had begun to dominate the market.
On the 12th August 1865 Joseph Lister carried out the world’s first antiseptic surgery using the chemical phenol, otherwise known as carbolic acid. Lister is remembered among the greats of medical science for being the first person to identify the link between clean hospital conditions and infection rates.
To understand the importance of Lister’s achievement, it’s important to remember that in the 19th Century up to 50% of all hospital patients died of infection. This often occurred after surgery, during which time patients developed ‘ward fever’ – a non-specific range of secondary infections caused through poor hospital hygiene where surgeons weren’t required to wash their hands or even their stained operating gowns.
Having read the work of the Frenchman Louis Pasteur regarding the spread and growth of bacteria, Lister became interested in finding a way to remove infection-causing micro-organisms from hospitals. Germ theory of disease was only just becoming more widely accepted, but after discovering that carbolic acid, now referred to as phenol, had successfully been used to reduce the smell of raw sewage Lister began experiments using it as what became termed an ‘antiseptic’.
On the 12th August Lister used a piece of lint covered in carbolic acid to cover the compound fracture wound of a seven-year-old boy, and found that over a period of six weeks the wound healed without developing gangrene. Developments in surgical hygiene followed. As well as surgeons wearing gloves, they began to wash their hands in carbolic acid, as well as washing their instruments in Lister’s 5% solution and spraying it liberally around the operating theatre.
French aviator Louis Charles Joseph Blériot made the first flight across the English Channel in a heavier-than-air aircraft.
After graduating from the prestigious École Centrale in Paris, Blériot quickly established himself as a talented engineer, and launched his own company to sell the world’s first practical car headlamp. The success of this business provided him with the funds to begin developing his own aircraft.
Having started with ornithopters and gliders, by 1905 Blériot had moved on to developing powered aircraft in partnership with Gabriel Voisin. After this business was dissolved the following year, Blériot went on alone and created a number of working aircraft by the time Lord Northcliffe of the Daily Mail announced a cash prize for the first powered flight across the Channel.
Blériot was not the only person to express interest in the competition, but he was the first to complete the crossing from Calais after the high winds that had grounded the competitors dropped at dawn on 25 July 1909. Piloting his Blériot XI monoplane without the aid of a compass, he drifted slightly east of his intended course. Blériot landed clumsily near Dover Castle as a result of the windy conditions 36 minutes and 30 seconds after departing France.
Having neglected to visit Dover beforehand to identify an appropriate landing site, Blériot touched down where the journalist Charles Fontaine from the French Le Matin newspaper stood waving a large Tricolour.
The Daily Mail correspondent, meanwhile, was on the other side of the town as he had expected the competitors to land on beach. He quickly took a car to meet Blériot, whose achievement turned him into an instant celebrity.
The 22nd June 1633 saw Galileo Galilei, the famed scientist, was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” by the Papal Inquisition and forced to recant his belief in the heliocentric universe originally put forward by Copernicus ninety years previously. Galileo was sentenced to house arrest where he remained for the final nine years of his life.
Galileo had visited Rome nearly two decades earlier in order to defend his belief that the Earth orbits the Sun rather than the other way round after complaints to the Inquisition had been raised in early 1615. Despite his attempt to prove that heliocentrism didn’t contradict the Bible, an Inquisitorial commission in 1616 unanimously declared it to be “formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.”
At that time Galileo was ordered to “abandon completely… the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves”. However, he was permitted to discuss heliocentrism in theory. It was this that caused him problems when, in 1632, he published a new book called Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Although written with permission from the Inquisition and the Pope, the book implicitly defended heliocentrism. Therefore, argued the Inquisition, Galileo had broken the sentence passed down 16 years earlier and should be forced to recant and be imprisoned.
Nearly 400 years later, in 1992, Pope John Paul II issued a declaration that recognised and expressed regret at the way the Catholic Church had handled the so-called Galileo affair.
A solar eclipse during the Battle of Halys led to a truce between the kingdoms of Media and Lydia, making it the earliest historical event that can be precisely dated.
The Eclipse of Thales was recorded in The Histories of the Greek historian Herodotus. He claims that the philosopher Thales of Miletus accurately predicted the eclipse in advance, marking what science writer Isaac Asimov later described as ‘the birth of science’.
Herodotus writes that the Lydians under King Alyattes II and the Medes under Cyaxares had been at war for five years over their competing interests in Anatolia. The spark had been a desire for revenge over the killing of one of Cyaxares’ sons by nomadic hunters who were subsequently given protection by the Lydians. Having fought a series of indecisive battles in the preceding years, the two armies met again in 585 BCE during which a solar eclipse took place.
There is some doubt over Herodotus’ claim that Thales predicted the eclipse in advance, especially as no records survive regarding exactly how he made his calculations. However, the eclipse was also recorded in other accounts. Herodotus describes how ‘suddenly the day became night’ and that the warring armies interpreted this as an omen to stop fighting. The peace was sealed by Alyattes’ daughter marrying one of Cyaxares’ surviving sons.
Later astronomers were able to pinpoint the exact date of historical eclipses, using the same calculations that help to predict future ones. By combining data of these ancient events with contextual knowledge of the Battle of Halys, 28 May 585 BCE was consequently identified as the most likely date. This makes the day of the battle a cardinal date, meaning it provides a waypoint from which numerous other dates in the ancient world can be calculated.
On the 11th May 1997, the IBM computer Deep Blue became the first computer to defeat a reigning world chess champion under tournament conditions when it beat Garry Kasparov 3½-2½ over six matches.
Deep Blue began life as a graduate research project at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Developed over 8 years by a team of eight computer scientists, it operated through brute force computing power. Ranked as the 259th most powerful computer in the world, Deep Blue was able to evaluate 200 million separate chess positions per second.
The Deep Blue team used records of Kasparov’s previous games to program the computer with his previous strategies. The programmers were also allowed to tweak the computer’s algorithm between rounds to take account of the last game. Kasparov, meanwhile, was playing blind since this model of Deep Blue hadn’t played any previous tournament games.
Kasparov was unnerved by the behavior of Deep Blue in the first match. Although the computer lost the match, Kasparov believed it showed ‘superior intelligence’ when it sacrificed a piece. However, IBM later claimed that the sacrifice was a result of a bug in the software resulting in the computer playing a fall-back move. However, this illogical move unsettled Kasparov and put him at a psychological disadvantage for the remaining games. He refused to accept the defeat, accusing IBM of human intervention which they strenuously denied. IBM also refused his requests for a rematch.
Marie and Pierre Curie proved the existence of the new element radium when they chemically isolated one-tenth of a gram of pure radium chloride.
Marie and Pierre Curie were both pioneering scientists in their own right, but as a research partnership they are most famous for their work on radioactivity. Inspired by the work of the French physicist Henri Becquerel who had been the first person to discover radioactivity, the Curies’ work won them the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics which they shared with Becquerel himself.
Marie had been born and raised in Poland but, since women were not permitted to attend university there, she moved to France to take up a place to study at the Sorbonne in Paris. Having secured degrees in both physical sciences and mathematics by 1894 she married Pierre, an established physicist, whom she had met through a mutual friend. Marie subsequently began to pursue a Ph.D. for which she studied the recently-discovered rays emitted by uranium.
Having coined the term radioactivity to describe the radiation she observed, Curie focused on the minerals pitchblende and torbernite in her search for materials that emitted more radiation than uranium itself. Inspired by his wife’s discovery that the element thorium was radioactive, Pierre dropped his own research in 1898 to work with her. In July they published a joint paper announcing the existence of an element they named polonium, and in December they did the same for radium.
To unequivocally prove their existence, the Curies sought to isolate them from pitchblende. Having processed tons of the mineral, they eventually obtained one-tenth of a gram of radium chloride on 20 April 1902, for which they shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics.