I hardly need to remind anyone that today is officially America’s Birthday – 235 years old today (or +2 days if you are in the camp that recognizes that the Declaration of Independence actually occurred on July 2, 1776). In any case, July 4th has turned out to be quite a significant date for many other memorable events in history.
In 1054, the best-known Supernova in the history of astronomy was observed by Chinese astronomers (among others, but the Chinese records from the time period are the ones that survived.) Aptly named SN1054, this was the supernova which resulted in The Crab Nebulae. It is one of the few supernova which astronomers can trace to the date of the explosion.
In 1803, The Louisiana Purchase was announced to the nation. The United States paid 15 million dollars (about 225 million by today’s dollars) for the immense territory (over 2.1 million square miles of land.) By any accounts, this is one of the most significant acquisitions of land in history. (Nothing really sciency or skepticy here, but its a mind-boggling occurence nonetheless.) President Thomas Jefferson was at our helm during the time of the purchase. An in that same vein …
In 1826, Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is often taught that Adams, who perished a few hours after Jefferson, uttered his final words: “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” There are many scholars that are skeptical that Adams spoke these words on the day of his death.
In 1865, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published, authored by Lewis Carroll. It is not so well known (well, at least it wasn’t to me) that Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was an accomplished mathematician and logician. He worked primarily in the fields of geometry, matrix algebra, mathematical logic and recreational mathematics, producing nearly a dozen books which he signed with his real name. It is said he also developed new ideas in the study of elections (e.g., Dodgson’s method) and committees; some of this work was not published until well after his death.
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt sent the first official message over the new cable across the Pacific Ocean between Honolulu, Midway, Guam and Manila. Laying cable across the ocean floor over 100 years ago is a fascinating feat of human engineering and capability.
In 1997, the Mars Pathfinder successfully landed on the Mars. Launched on December 4 1996, its main mission was to study the Martian atmosphere and investigate the geology and chemical composition of the planet’s rocks and soils. Its descent through the Martian atmosphere was braked by a heat shield, a parachute and rockets. Using a new NASA effort for “cheaper, faster, better,” the Mars Pathfinder used airbags to cushion its landing on the surface. It carried Sojourner, a wheeled rover device designed to travel slowly across the surface of Mars taking photographs and collect other scientific data, while also testing autonomous-vehicle technology on the Martain terrain. I have vivid recollections of watching events unfold on television, that was truly amazing to see.
And for good measure, July 4th is Tom Sawyer Fence Painting Day. For my money, any day associated with Mark Twain, one of the most famous skeptical personalities in American history, is a day worthy of celebration.
Happy 4th of July Everyone!