Taxonomy term


Benchmarks: January 13, 1404: England prohibits Alchemy

Alchemy, in both ancient and medieval times, wasn’t just about turning lead into gold, although such “transmutation” was certainly one desirable goal. In a broader sense, alchemists were both philosophers and the precursors to modern chemists, in that they sought to understand thedifferent states of matter, the interactions of metals, and the way in which elements were created from the original chaos. There were thought to be four elements — earth, air, fire and water — and combining them properly could produce any substance on Earth, from medicines to gold. Among the more lofty ambitions of alchemists was the search for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, a substance that was supposed to enable the transmutation of one substance into another (and perhaps act as an elixir of life).
13 Jan 2010

Benchmarks: December 1, 1959: Antarctic Treaty Signed

Science trumps all in Antarctica. For the past 50 years, Antarctica has remained a military-free, globally shared continent, dedicated to peace and scientific advancement, thanks to the Antarctica Treaty.
01 Dec 2009

Benchmarks: November 22, 1859: "On the Origin of Species" published

By David B. Williams

About a decade ago, I was fortunate enough to hold in my hands a first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” The green cover was cracked and frayed. The cardboard backing protruded through the torn corners. I put the book down and stared at it in awe. The owner of this book was Asa Gray, one of America’s greatest botanists, an important early American supporter of natural selection, and a friend of Darwin’s.

23 Nov 2009

Musical magnetic reversals

Although Earth’s magnetic field currently points toward the North Pole, the planet’s magnetic dipole flips direction every few hundred thousand years or so. Engebretson tracked the last 85 million years of these magnetic reversals, with higher pitches representing shorter polarities (a period of time when the direction of the magnetic field stays the same), and lower pitches longer ones.

22 Sep 2009

Earth tides in A major

Earth experiences small, millimeter-sized tides, called Earth tides. Using a dataset from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California from A.D. 1600 to A.D. 2200, Engebretson calculated the net gravitational force of the sun and the moon at particular intervals and then mapped them onto the A major scale.

22 Sep 2009

The cosmos on key

Engebretson’s latest project involves taking the orbital periods of all eight planets in the solar system and turning them into corresponding frequencies: Planets that have short orbits like Mercury have higher frequencies, whereas more distant planets with longer orbits like Neptune have lower frequencies.

22 Sep 2009

Benchmarks: September 16, 1987: Montreal Protocol Signed

Each year in late September to early October, atmospheric scientists watch with anticipation as ozone concentrations over Antarctica drop, opening a window in Earth’s defenses against harmful ultraviolet radiation. This ozone “hole” grew steadily in the 1990s and set a record for its size in 2006: At its peak, the hole covered an average area of 27 million square kilometers, approximately the size of North America. But scientists think that the overall ozone layer is on the slow road to recovery, thanks to the Montreal Protocol — one of the most successful international environmental agreements in history.
16 Sep 2009

Benchmarks: August 17, 1959: Hebgen Lake earthquake and landslide

By Callan Bentley

You’re camping in Montana, doing some fly fishing on the Madison River. You’ve had a full day of beautiful Big Sky country weather, and had fresh trout for dinner. In your campsite at the Rock Creek Campground, you go to bed satisfied and happy. It’s a nice enough evening that you sleep out in the open, to better appreciate the stars. The waters of the Madison gurgle by, gently lulling you to sleep while Orion shines above.

18 Aug 2009

Benchmarks: July 4, 1054: "Birth" of the Crab Nebula

On July 4, 1054, Chinese and Japanese astronomers observed a new, iridescent yellow point of light in the constellation Taurus. This “guest star,” said to be as bright as the moon, failed to disappear with the rising sun — for a month, it shone both night and day. Even after fading during daytime, it remained in the night sky for nearly two years, by some accounts. Historians and scientists think that this event was likely the supernova that created the Crab Nebula, one of the most spectacular and rare astronomical features in the known universe.
04 Jul 2009