Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 30, 2015
The Earth-Moon system

The Earth-Moon system

November 30, 3340 BC: An eclipse is recorded. At least that is a theory proposed by Paul Griffin who argues a stone in Ireland records the event. Records of solar eclipses have been kept since ancient times as the event was seen as a propitious omen. A Syrian clay tablet records the event in the Ugaritic language and tells of a solar eclipse which took place on March 5, 1223 BC (using the Gregorian calendar). The Babylonians also recorded the events and their records from the 13th century BC may have been used to help the Greeks find all three lunar motions to an extremely precise degree. They were able to calculate synodic, anomalistic, and draconitic motions to about one part in a million. The Chinese have been recording solar eclipses for about 4,000 years and these have been used to calculate the changes in the Earth’s rate of spin.

An eclipse is an astronomical event which takes place when one object is temporarily obscured by the passing of another body or by the passing of the shadow of another body across it. The word eclipse comes from the Greek ékleipsis which means “the abandonment”, “the downfall”, or “the darkening of a heavenly body”. This gives a rather ominous flavor to the word. There are different types of eclipses, but the term when left to stand alone usually refers to a solar eclipse which happens with the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun. This only works when there is a new moon and when the Sun and the Moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth. Since orbits are not completely in alignment, this is not a monthly occurrence.

A lunar eclipse takes place when the Moon passes behind the Earth and is covered by the shadow it casts. Again, all three entities, Sun, Moon, and Earth, have to be perfectly aligned for this to happen, something called syzygy. A lunar eclipse can only take place on the night of a full moon. Other differences between the two types of eclipses is that a lunar eclipse lasts for hours rather than the few minutes a solar eclipse lasts. And a lunar eclipse can be seen from anywhere on the night side of Earth. A total solar eclipse can only been seen on a small portion of the planet. It is safe for anyone to gaze up into the night sky to witness a lunar eclipse and they will not damage their eyes. However, eye protection is needed if one is to look directly at a solar eclipse.

There are three parts of the Moon’s shadow in a solar eclipse. The umbra is the part where the Moon completely covers the sun. Because of the sizes of the bodies involved, it is possible, at times, for the Moon to seem to completely block the sun. The umbra moves eastward at a rate of 1050 mph and is seen along a track 155 miles wide. It can last up to 7 minutes and 31 seconds under the most favorable circumstances, that is when everything is perfectly aligned. It is interesting to note that astronauts in space can witness an eclipse unlike anything we can see on Earth. They have witnessed an eclipse of the Earth over the Sun. The Cassini probe was able to see Saturn eclipse the Sun in 2006.

There is no science in this world like physics. Nothing comes close to the precision with which physics enables you to understand the world around you. It’s the laws of physics that allow us to say exactly what time the sun is going to rise. What time the eclipse is going to begin. What time the eclipse is going to end. – Neil deGrasse Tyson

All Science is necessarily prophetic, so truly so, that the power of prophecy is the test, the infallible criterion, by which any presumed Science is ascertained to be actually & verily science. The Ptolemaic Astronomy was barely able to prognosticate a lunar eclipse; with Kepler and Newton came Science and Prophecy. – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I have always read that the world, both land and water, was spherical, as the authority and researches of Ptolemy and all the others who have written on this subject demonstrate and prove, as do the eclipses of the moon and other experiments that are made from east to west, and the elevation of the North Star from north to south. – Christopher Columbus

The earth together with its surrounding waters must in fact have such a shape as its shadow reveals, for it eclipses the moon with the arc of a perfect circle. – Copernicus

Also on this day: I’ll Take Television for $200, Alex – In 2004, Ken Jennings finally lost at Jeopardy! after winning over $2.5 million.
100 Miles Per Hour – In 1934, the Flying Scotsman reached a speed of 100 mph.
Lucy – In 1974, Australopithecus was discovered.
Penal Reform – In 1786, the death penalty was outlawed for the first time.
Crystal Palace – In 1936, the palace burned to the ground.

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Crystal Palace

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 30, 2014
Crystal Palace burns

Crystal Palace burns

November 30, 1936: The Crystal Palace burns. The Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park, London to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. The cast-iron and plate-glass building contained over 990,000 square feet of space and housed more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world. Displayed within were examples of the latest technology developed during the Industrial Revolution. Sir Joseph Paxton designed the building which was 1,851 feet long with an interior height of 128 feet. Cast plate glass methodology had only been developed in 1848, making the building a marvel of its time. It was the most glass seen in one building up to that time and was astonishing to see. After the Great Exhibition, the building was rebuilt even larger at Penge Common next to Sydenham Hill with construction complete in 1854.

Playwright Douglas Jerrold wrote in the July 13, 1850 issue of Punch magazine about the proposed palace of very crystal and the oft repeated phrase became the name of the building which had not even been approved yet. The Crystal Palace’s construction began in July 1850. Timber used to rough in the building was eventually used for the flooring. More than 1,000 iron columns supported 2,224 trellis girders and 30 miles of guttering. There were 4,000 tonnes of iron in all. Up to 2,000 navvies worked on the building at any one time with over 5,000 employed during the entire construction period. After the transept was installed, a team of 80 glaziers placed more than 18,000 panes of glass in a week. The building was complete in just five months.

The Great Exhibition lasted only six months and the building was doomed to destruction. Instead, a group of eight businessmen formed a holding company and had the building moved. Construction of the new building began in 1852 and it was quite different from the original being even larger and grander. Queen Victoria held opening ceremonies in 1854. The original palace had cost £150,000 (about £14.3 million in today’s currency) and the move cost another £1.3 million (about £115 million today). The debt was never fully repaid even though the venue was opened on Sundays beginning in 1861. That first Sunday had 40,000 visitors. Three decades later, the popularity of the Palace as well as its state of disrepair led to its decline.

The board declared bankruptcy in 1911 and in 1914 the Earl of Plymouth purchased it. Eventually, the country bought it back and Sir Henry Buckland began the job of restoration. Visitors were coming back and the Palace made a small profit. Improvement continued. On this day, a fire started and within hours, the entire Palace had been destroyed. A small office fire had started after an explosion in the women’s cloakroom. Two men had attempted to put out the fire, but help was called. In all, 89 fire engines and over 400 firemen worked to put the blaze out, but high winds spread the fire and soon the Crystal Palace was no more.

In a few hours we have seen the end of the Crystal Palace. Yet it will live in the memories not only of Englishmen, but the whole world. – Henry Buckland

This is the end of an age. – Winston Churchill

One size of glass was chosen and this in turn determined the size of the repetitive units. Paxton’s prefabricated modular design enabled a low cost and quick build. –

It stood to remind us that we did contribute something to the pioneer efforts of the Modern Movement – J.M. Richards

Also on this day: I’ll Take Television for $200, Alex – In 2004, Ken Jennings finally lost at Jeopardy! after winning over $2.5 million.
100 Miles Per Hour – In 1934, the Flying Scotsman reached a speed of 100 mph.
Lucy – In 1974, Australopithecus was discovered.
Penal Reform – In 1786, the death penalty was outlawed for the first time.

100 Miles Per Hour

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 30, 2013
Flying Scotsman

Flying Scotsman

November 30, 1934: The Flying Scotsman is official. Twice before steam locomotives claimed to have broken the 100 mph speed barrier. Neither was officially clocked. The GWR 3700 Class 3440 City of Truro (UK) claimed to pass the 100 mph mark on May 9, 1904. The Pennsylvania Railroad E6s #460 (US) also made the claim on June 11, 1927 but the trains did not have speedometers. They calculated speed by timing mile markers. The Flying Scotsman’s speed was officially timed and authenticated.

The Flying Scotsman first went into service in 1862 as an express passenger train service running between London and Edinburgh. The route was over the East Coast Main Line tracks. These were built by a number of smaller companies. With mergers and buyouts there were eventually three companies controlling the entire line: the North British Railway, the North Eastern Railway, and the Great Northern Railway. By 1860 the Big Three established the East Coast Joint Stock for the long-distance service. Thus, the Flying Scotsman was born.

There have been several different engines used to move people back and forth from England to Scotland. The train was long and heavy making it necessary to have an extremely powerful locomotive pulling the load. It was the Gresley A3 Class #4472 engine that achieved the land speed record on this date. Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley designed many steam engines over thirty years (1911-1941). The A3 Class was a continuation of the A1 Class. There were 52 A1 engines built with 52 rebuilt as A3 engines along with 27 new construction engines. No. 4472 was a three cylinder engine built in 1923 and retired in 1963. The engine underwent several different number designations beginning with 1472, then 4472, then 103, and finally 60103.

The Flying Scotsman engines were replaced with ever newer models. In 2004 British citizens worked together to fund the restoration project to return the venerable engine to its former condition. There is a permanent exhibition about the Flying Scotsman at the National Railway Museum. Engine No. 4472 has undergone a tremendous beautification process. The biggest expense went to repairing and rebuilding the huge copper boiler. The goal of the restoration project is to have the engine back on the Main Line once again.

“RAILROAD, n. The chief of many mechanical devices enabling us to get away from where we are to where we are no better off. For this purpose the railroad is held in highest favor by the optimist, for it permits him to make the transit with great expedition.” – Ambrose Bierce

“The introduction of so powerful an agent as steam to a carriage on wheels will make a great change in the situation of man.” – Thomas Jefferson

“I can see nothing to hinder a steam carriage moving on its ways with a velocity of 100 miles an hour.” – Colonel John Stevens, 1812

“Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” – Dionysius Lardner

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The National Railway Museum is located in York, North Yorkshire, England. It is part of the British National Museum of Science and Industry. It was established in 1975. There are over 100 locomotives displayed at the Museum and there are almost another 200 that are rolling stock. Included in the museum are many hundreds of thousands of other items related to the railroads all contained on the 20 acre site. There are three large halls containing most of the items which are social, technical, artistic, or of historical interest. The buildings were part of the former motive power depot next to the East Coast Main Line near the York rail station. The museum is a popular visiting place and had more than 717,000 visitors in the financial year 2011-2012. This is more than any museum in England outside London. The museum has won many awards including the European Museum of the Year Award in 2001.

Also on this day: I’ll Take Television for $200, Alex – In 2004, Ken Jennings finally lost at Jeopardy! after winning over $2.5 million.
Lucy – In 1974, Australopithecus was discovered.
Penal Reform – In 1786, the death penalty was outlawed for the first time.

Penal Reform

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 30, 2012

Leopold II

November 30, 1786: Peter Leopold Joseph of Habsburg-Lorraine, institutes a new penal code for his Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Leopold was born in Vienna and was the third son. He was educated for the priesthood but was not an avid student. His older brother Charles died in 1791 and his father decided that Leopold would take the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, specially erected into a apanage  (estate) for his now-second son. The deal was binding only if Leopold married Maria Luisa of Spain (daughter of King Charles III). That marriage took place on August 5, 1764. On August 18, 1765, Leopold’s father died and the young man rose to power; he was 18 years old.

He did little for the first few years but in 1770, he managed to get rid of the interference of managers and his mother’s influence and ruled in Florence with a free hand. He carried out many reforms during the two decades between having his hands freed and his brother’s death in 1790. One of the reforms he instituted was this day’s penal code reform. In it, he outlawed the death penalty. His was the first state to outlaw this punishment. As a result of this ruling, November 30 is celebrated as Cities for Life Day. Because of this ruling, participating cities illuminate a symbolic monument. In 2009, more than 60 capitals and 1,200 cities participated.

In 1790, Leopold’s brother Joseph died. Leopold became the Holy Roman Emperor. His other titles included King of Hungary and Croatia and King of Bohemia. He assumed the rule in these last two counties immediately upon his brother’s death. However, it was not until September 30 that he rose to the throne in Germany and became the Holy Roman Emperor. His brother had offended many nobles and Leopold was able to use his experience gained in Tuscany to assuage many of those hurt. He only lived for two years after gaining the title and was in peril during most of the time.

His family was large and his sister, Marie Antoinette was in trouble. His own large family included twelve surviving children. Maria Theresa, Queen of Saxony, Francis II who would become the Holy Roman Emperor at his father’s death, Ferdinand III who gained his father’s title of Grand Duke of Tuscany, eight more archdukes, and Maria Clementina, Hereditary Princess of Naples. With such a large family, their power spread across Europe. Not all of the Hapsburg rulers were as magnanimous as Leopold and not all nations today have adopted the notion of banning the death penalty.

For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists. – Albert Camus

Government … can’t be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill. – Helen Prejean

If we are to abolish the death penalty, I should like to see the first step taken by my friends the murderers. – Alphonse Karr, Les Guêpes, Jan. 31, 1849

It’s just really tragic after all the horrors of the last 1,000 years we can’t leave behind something as primitive as government sponsored execution. – Russ Feingold

Also on this day:

I’ll Take Television for $200, Alex – In 2004, Ken Jennings finally lost at Jeopardy! after winning over $2.5 million.
100 Miles Per Hour – In 1934, the Flying Scotsman reached a speed of 100 mph.
Lucy – In 1974, Australopithecus was discovered.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 30, 2011

Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) skeleton

November 30, 1974: Lucy (Australopithecus) is discovered in the Middle Awash of the Ethiopian Afar Depression. Her scientific designation is AL-288-1 and she is a 40% complete skeleton who lived about 3.2 million years ago. Maurice Taieb found the Hadar Formation in 1972 and then formed the International Afar Research Expedition in order to search the area. He invited Donald Johanson from Arizona State University and Yves Coppens from Collège de France to help run the expeditions.

Four Americans and seven Frenchmen searched for fossils and artifacts around Hadar, Ethiopia in November of 1973 and found some bones that showed that the owner had been used to walking in an upright, hominid manner. The bones were more than 3 million years old. They returned the next year and worked a site about 1.5 miles from the previous year’s dig. They found Lucy, so named because The Beatle’s song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was played over and over while the scientists unearthed the fossils.

Australopithecus is thought to be the last common ancestor to both humans and chimpanzees and lived 3.9-3 million years ago. More fossils and artifacts have been found since the 1970s, but none as complete as Lucy. Johanson and Lucy returned to Cleveland,Ohio after the dig was completed. After nine years of further study, Lucy returned to Africa where she is preserved at the National Museum of Ethiopia at Addis Ababa. A plaster cast of the fossils is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Australopithecus afarensis is a species that falls into two categories, early and late. The first afarensis group is found at Laetoli and Belohdelie and dates from 3.9-3.5 million years ago. The second group is from Hadar and Maka and dates from 3.5-2.96 million years ago. Both early and late afarensis were bipedal. This is surmised from both bone structure and fossilized footprints. Dentition (teeth) and post-crania (skull) show links to an evolutionary path that are important to scientists.

“If you believe in evolution you can trace all of our lower back problems to the time when the first hominid stood erect.” – Dr. Hugo A. Keim

“If we are going to teach creation science as an alternative to evolution, then we should also teach the stork theory as an alternative to biological reproduction.” – Judith Hayes

“Evolution is not a force but a process. Not a cause but a law.” – John Morley

“My theory of evolution is that Darwin was adopted.” – Stephen Wright

Also on this day:
I’ll Take Television for $200, Alex – In 2004, Ken Jennings finally lost at Jeopardy! after winning over $2.5 million.
100 Miles Per Hour – In 1934, the Flying Scotsman reached a speed of 100 mph.

I’ll Take Television for $200, Alex

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 30, 2010

Ken signing in on Jeopardy! over his run

November 30, 2004: Ken Jennings make Jeopardy! history when he finally loses during his 75th game after winning $2,522,700. He went on to win another $500,000 on the Ultimate Tournament of Champions for the 2004 season. Jeopardy! is an internationally televised game of answers and questions. Three contestants vie for top earnings giving the proper questions to the answers provided. Jeopardy! entered it’s twentieth season in 2003 and at that time changed the rule concerning returning champions. Prior to 2003 the limit was five appearances after which the champion was retired and three new contestants would begin play the next show.

Jennings was born in Edmonds, Washington but grew up in Seoul, South Korea and Singapore. He is a Mormon and served two years of missionary work in Madrid, Spain. He worked as a software programmer and also wrote and edited questions for the National Academic Quiz Tournaments.

Jennings said he practiced for the show by reading, watching the televised program, making flashcards, and practicing using the buzzer. In fact, he has said that it is the buzzer that makes or breaks the contestants. If you ring too soon, you are blocked out for a short time and if you wait too long a competitor has won the right to give the question. The longer he was on the show, the more time the new contestants were given to practice using the buzzer to help offset this advantage.

Jennings began his run on the quiz show on June 2, 2004 and continued through 74 wins that spanned two seasons. He worked in Utah and flew to California where the show is taped every other week for two days, Tuesday and Wednesday. He finally lost to Nancy Zerg when he missed a Daily Double and then Final Jeopardy for a loss of $10,400. The Final Jeopardy business answer he missed was H&R Block, giving the wrong question as FedEx. Both companies used him as a spokesperson soon after his loss.

“Most of this firm’s 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year.” – Jeopardy! answer Ken missed

“It’s so much fun that the money is just icing on the cake. There seems to be a lot of icing.” – Ken Jennings

“It’s boring to have the same guy win. I’m actively rooting against myself.” – Ken Jennings

“Can You Beat Ken. My experience is that a 15 year old can sometimes know more than his dad. Trivia has an all-age attraction.” – Ken Jennings

“Being a nerd really pays off sometimes.” – Ken Jennings

Also on this day, in 1934 the Flying Scotsman reaches speeds of 100 mph.