Tag archives for Mysterious Science

Considering the amount of ground covered in each one-hour Chasing UFOs episode, it isn’t always possible to present the science of each investigation in a comprehensive way.  So, for those who wish to learn more about the science behind Chasing UFOs, read on!   Considering Cattle “Mutilations” and Classification Errors Admittedly, my background isn’t in…

  Everybody’s suddenly very excited about the Cleopatra, the ancient queen of Egypt in the First Century BC, and with good reason. Stacy Schiff’s new biography, Cleopatra: A Life, which is getting rave reviews, contends that both history and Hollywood have portrayed her inaccurately. The ancient queen turns out to have been a lot less like Elizabeth…

On this date in 1959, the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 probe passed by the Moon and then took 29 photographs of the illuminated far hemisphere from a distance of about 40,000 miles away. The pictures were then transmitted via radio transmission to Earth. The images provided the first-ever opportunity for humans to look at the Moon’s far…

On this day in 1869, Fisher A. Spofford and Matthew G. Raffington of Columbus, OH, who apparently tinkered a bit when they weren’t teaching at the Ohio School for the Deaf, obtained U.S. Patent 95,531 for a “New and Improved Water-Velocipede.” While it might sound like the name of an insect, it’s actually just a fancy term for a pedal boat,…

On this day in 1562, the now obscure but significant astronomer Christian Sorensen Lomborg, better known by his Latinized name Longomontanus, was born in the village of Lomborg in Jutland, Denmark. He was the son of a menial laborer who died when he was eight. But Longomontanus transcended his humble background, working at gritty jobs…

On this date in 1847, Maria Mitchell, a 31-year-old Nantucket, MA librarian who was fascinated with astronomy, climbed to her family’s rooftop and scanned the sky with a two-inch reflecting telescope. According to a profile of her on the American Physical Society website, she noticed a small blurry streak, and guessed immediately that it might be a…

On this day in 1919, 30-year-old Fritz von Opel, scion of a famous German auto making family, climbed into a custom-built glider specially equipped with 16 50-pound thrust rockets and took off from a field near Frankfurt. According to his 1971 New York Times obit, Opel’s 90 second, 1.5 mile ride, which achieved an altitude of 49…

On this day in 1914, Thomas Edison was granted a patent for the “phonograph-record”— which actually was not the first phonograph record, as you might mistakenly assume. (Don’t feel badly—we initially made the same error.) Given the degree of Edison worship in American history books, you might also incorrectly think that Edison was the first person to…

On this date in 1969, a fiery object that would become known as the Murchison meteorite appeared in the sky over the town of the same name in Australia. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey’s database, the object split into three pieces, and then disappeared in a cloud of smoke. 30 seconds later, residents of the area felt…

On this day in 1910, German scientist Fritz Haber and his British colleague Robert Le Rossignol were issued a U.S. patent for an industrial process to synthesize ammonia from its chemical components nitrogen and hydrogen. It was Haber who gets most of the credit for actually inventing the process—Le Rossignol’s contribution was designing equipment to perform it—so…

On this day in 1889, a Scottish physician named Alexander Dey patented the dial time recorder, a device that allowed employers to track the exact time at which workers arrived and how long they spent on the job. The device featured a dial, which employees used to point to their assigned identification number and then pressed…

On this day in 1869, Mary Mallon was born in County Tyrone, Ireland. As a teenager, Mallon emigrated to the U.S. According to a biography of her by Judith Walzer Leavitt, Mallon was skilled in the kitchen, and eventually found employment as a live-in cook for affluent families in New York City. Unfortunately for those who ate…

On this day in 1791, Michael Faraday, whom Wired magazine once called “the Einstein of the 19th Century,” was born in England. Faraday grew up in a working class family and to quit  school in his teens to help support his family. While working as a bookbinder, he continued to study on his own, and…

On this date in 1921, one of the worst industrial disasters in history occurred in Oppau, Germany. A fertilizer stockpile in a chemical plant exploded, killing an estimated 500-600 people and injuring thousands; in addition to destroying 80 percent of the buildings in the town around it. The blast, the equivalent of one-to-two kilotons of TNT,…

On this day in 1819, inventor Seth Boyden produced the first batch of a new material called patent leather at his tannery in Newark, NJ, and created a fashion revolution.Boyden was born in 1788 on a farm in Foxboro, MA, where as a teenager he honed his inventive skills by tinkering with watches. In 1815, at age…

On this day in 1857, Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky was born in Izhevskoye, a village in Ryasan Province in Russia. One of eighteen children of a forestry worker, he suffered a bout of scarlet fever at the age of 10, which cost him his hearing. At 14, due in part to his disability, he dropped out of school.…

Today would be the 91st birthday of Marvin P. Middlemark, the inventor of the “rabbit ears” antenna, which graced the top of many a TV set during the pre-cable analog age of television, and numerous other gadgets, including the water-powered automatic potato peeler. Middlemark grew up on Long Island and in New York City, and studied at Cornell University…

On this day in 1904, the first U.S. lighter-than-air balloon equipped with meteorological instruments was launched at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. The balloon was the work of pioneering American meteorologist Abbott Lawrence Rotch, founder of Boston’s Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory and the first to suggest the use of daily maps at local weather…

On this day in 1960, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulator named Dr. Frances Kelsey, who had been assigned to review a seemingly routine application by William S. Merrell Co. to market the sedative Kevadon in the U.S., declined to approve it. The drug manufacturer was shocked. Kevadon–today better known by its generic name…

On this day in 1833, the first shipment of imported ice, cut from frozen lakes in Massachusetts, arrived in Calcutta (now called Kolkata), in the hold of the Clipper Tuscany after a four month voyage. The American sailing ship had a specially insulated hold to keep the 180 tons of ice packed in wood and…

Sept. 10 would have been the 69th birthday of the late Stephen Jay Gould, who not only made significant contributions to our understanding of evolution, but also was one of the smartest guys ever to pound a keyboard in an effort to explain science to the rest of us. As this biographical sketch from Stanford University presidential lectures…

On this day in 1947, computer pioneer Grace Hopper, then a young U.S. Navy lieutenant with a Ph.D in mathematics, coined the term “computer bug” to describe a problem that she found while testing Harvard University’s Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator, an early computer that included high-speed electromagnetic relays rather than mechanical counters used in the Mark I, its…

On this day in 1930, 3M unveiled a new invention that would have a pervasive effect on American culture—a roll of clear adhesive film that has come to be known by the seminal brand, Scotch tape. Its inventor, chemical engineer Richard G. Drew, who worked for 3M in St. Paul, MN, reportedly was working on a waterproof…

On this date in 1776, the American Turtle, the American submarine built for warfare, was deployed in New York Harbor. Its mission: To plant an explosive charge on the H.M.S. Eagle, a 64-gun warship that was the flag vessel of British Admiral Lord Howe.The Turtle had been designed and built the previous year by David…

On this day in 1935, Sir Malcolm Campbell became the first driver to break the 300-mile-per-hour barrier at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The 50-year-old British daredevil, nicknamed the “Human Bullet” in the press, was a former World War I pilot who took up automobile racing in the 1920s and dedicated himself not just to becoming…