October 13, 1773: Charles Messier looks into the night sky. The French astronomer was born in 1730, the tenth of twelve children. Six of the children died while young and when Charles was 11, his father died. The child’s interest in astronomy was piqued by a great six-tailed comet (C/1743 X1, Comet de Chéseaus, or the Great Comet of 1744) and a solar eclipse as seen from his hometown on July 25, 1748. In 1751 he was employed by Joseph Nicolas Delistle, an astronomer with the French Navy. It was there he learned to make careful observations and keep detailed records. Charles’s first documented observation was the transit of Mercury on May 6, 1753.
Messier was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1764 and five years later was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1779 he was elected to the French Academy of Sciences. He discovered 13 comets between the years 1760 and 1785. His first catalog, published in 1774 contained 45 objects but since then the list of discoveries has grown to 103. However, at least 20 of the objects listed were, in fact, discovered by his assistant, Pierre Méchain. There is a crater on the moon called Messier and an asteroid called 7359 Messier – both named in his honor.
On this day, while looking at the night sky, Messier found something a bit larger than a comet. Designated as M51, the object is what is today sometimes called the Whirlpool galaxy. In 1781, Méchain discovered its companion galaxy NGC5195. Although the mass was seen in the sky, it wasn’t until 1845 that it was discovered the galaxy was spiral in nature. It took Lord Rosse using a 72-inch telescope to discover the shape. In 2005, a supernova was observed in the Whirlpool Galaxy which had an apparent magnitude of 14. And in 2011 a type II supernova with a magnitude of 13.5 was seen there.
The galaxy is located in the constellation Canes Venatici and is found following the easternmost star of the Big Dipper. The galaxy is visible with binoculars under dark sky conditions and can, obviously, be seen with amateur telescopes. However, it takes a larger telescope to be able to see the spiral arms. Stars are usually formed in the center of a galaxy and M51 seems to be undergoing a period of star formation, but this is a relatively short lived period and shouldn’t last more and another 100 million years. This could be the reason for the spiral shape of the galaxy, but not the only one. There is also hydrogen compression in other areas leading to starbirth regions and these show up as bright blue dots in the spiral arms.
Is it not careless to become too local when there are four hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone. – A. R. Ammons
Keep up the good work, if only for a while, if only for the twinkling of a tiny galaxy. – Wislawa Szymborska
When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system. – Kalpana Chawla
Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another. – Plato
Also on this day:
October 13, 1885: The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) is founded. Also referred to as Tech or GT, it is a public research university located in Atlanta, Georgia. The school is part of the University System of Georgia. There are several satellite campuses located in Savannah, Georgia; Metz, France; Athlone, Ireland; Shanghai, China; and Singapore. The original school was established as part of the Reconstruction effort after the Civil War.
When founded, it offered only a degree in mechanical engineering. By 1901 the school had increased degrees to include electrical, civil, and chemical engineering. In 1948, the school changed its name as a reflection of its change from a trade school to a more complete technical institute as well as a research university. Today it has six colleges with about 30 departments. There remains a strong emphasis on science and technology. Degrees include engineering, computing, management, the sciences, architecture, and liberal arts. It is one of the top ten universities in the US and is a member of the Association of American Universities.
Athletics are an important part of collegiate life. At Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets are famous for their sports prowess. Also called the Ramblin’ Wreck (from their fight song) and the Engineers (from their scholastic bent), they have seventeen varsity teams. Football, with their famous rivalry with the University of Georgia may be the most vocal. But they also have teams in basketball, baseball, golf, swimming and diving, track and field, and more. Their mascot is Buzz or Ramblin’ Wreck.
The first class of 95 students entered Georgia Tech in 1888 and their first two graduates received degrees in 1890. Today, they have an undergraduate enrollment of 13,672 (2010) and graduate students number 6,815 (2010). Many distinguished alumni once walked the campus of this famous school. Jimmy Carter attended for a short time. There are Nobel prize winners and CEOs who graduated from Georgia Tech as well as politicians and scientists. Famous athletes and Jeff Foxworthy, the comedian, all hail from this esteemed Institute.
“Each of us have things and thoughts and descriptions of an amazing universe in our possession that kings in the 17th Century would have gone to war to possess.” – Kary Mullis
“We’re not always consistent with our message that the customer is number one, … We’re not always consistent with our in-stock situation and sometimes the checkout lines are too long.” – Mike Duke
“Andrew was a storm that exceeded the design storm that we used. In fact, it still exceeds the design storm that we use and that the state building code would use. We really aren’t taking care of every possible eventuality.” – Herbert Saffir
“I used to say that whenever people heard my Southern accent, they always wanted to deduct 100 IQ points.” – Jeff Foxworthy
All quotes come from Georgia Tech graduates.
October 13, 1843: Henry Jones and eleven others found the B’nai B’rith service organization. It is the oldest continually-operating Jewish service organization in the world. From its beginnings in New York City, it has become a world wide organization.
The members were involved in welfare activities, promoting Jewish rights, assisting hospitals, aiding victims of natural disaster, awarding scholarships, and fighting anti-Semitism. They have founded hospitals, orphanages, libraries, senior housing communities. They are a vocal advocate for Israel and against the Diaspora. They have over 180,000 members in more than 50 countries.
Their mission statement includes security and continuity of the Jewish people, defending human rights, combating bigotry in all its manifestations, and providing services to humanity as goals. They aim to unite Jews and enhance their identity via a strengthened family life and education.
There are outside dissidents who have repudiated what B’nai B’rith has done and continues to do. The response from B’nai B’rith is that anti-Semitism is rampant and has been a historical fact for millennium. They maintain that they are a service for good and defense of the State of Israel is an honorable mission.
“Service makes men competent.” – Lyman Abbott
“Service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture of life.” – Carrie Chapman Catt
“We should render a service to a friend to bind him closer to us, and to an enemy to make a friend of him.” – Cleobulus
“Service is the rent that we pay for our room on earth.” – Lord Halifax
Also on this day, in 1917 Our Lady of Fatima appeared to thousands.