Taxonomy term


Benchmarks: April 24, 1990: The Hubble Space Telescope is launched

Five hundred and eighty kilometers above Earth, orbiting at more than 27,000 kilometers per hour, is a 12-ton, bus-sized eye on the universe: the Hubble Space Telescope. When Hubble launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990, scientists hoped it would provide answers to many of the great unknown questions of the day. How old is the universe? How fast is it expanding? What lies between galaxies?

24 Apr 2017

Benchmarks: March 11–13, 1888: The Great Blizzard of 1888 Paralyzes New York City

On Tuesday, March 13, 1888, the streets of New York City were nearly unrecognizable. What had been well-lit homes and storefronts, bustling with shoppers, families, workers and businessmen just two days before, now looked like a frozen battlefield, pummeled by a blizzard whose force had taken the city by surprise. The streets were clogged with deep snow and debris from signs, broken wires, downed poles, trees, and carts that had been abandoned as people fled to shelter. The few people who were out stumbled through deep snow drifts, fighting against a brutal icy wind; some never made it to safety.

11 Mar 2017

Benchmarks: February 5, 1931 and February 20, 1935: Antarctic firsts for women

We can only guess what Caroline Mikkelsen was thinking on Feb. 20, 1935, as she sipped her coffee, resting on a rocky hillside surrounded by the noise and stink of thousands of Adélie penguins. Minutes before, she had become the first woman to set foot in Antarctica and had helped hoist the Norwegian flag into place atop a rock cairn, claiming Norway’s influence in the land. Was she thrilled? Proud? Did she care about the significance of her presence there? We don’t know — little was recorded about the event; and most of what was recorded was lost for decades, resigning the episode, for a time, to footnote status amid the annals of a continent shrouded in mystery and a culture of polar exploration enraptured by the heroic and masculine deeds of the male explorers who had come before.

05 Feb 2017

A mysterious first

Women sailed around the sub-Antarctic islands well before Caroline Mikkelsen or Ingrid Christensen’s journeys, usually accompanying their sailor husbands. Maori navigators are known to have traveled these waters for centuries. 

05 Feb 2017

Benchmarks: January 31, 1961: Ham the chimpanzee, first hominid in space

Early on the morning of Jan. 31, 1961, a chimpanzee named Ham, outfitted in a diaper, waterproof pants and a space suit, was sealed into a capsule and loaded onto a Mercury-Redstone 2 spacecraft in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Six hours later, Ham the Chimp, named after Holloman Aeromedical Research Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M., where he was trained, became the first hominid to travel into space.

31 Jan 2017

Benchmarks: December 6, 1916: Dinosaur fossils lost at sea in World War I

One hundred years ago this month, a Canadian cargo ship — the SS Mount Temple — departed the port of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River headed for France. On board were 3,000 tons of wheat, more than 700 horses bound for service in World War I, and an unknown number of 75-million-year-old dinosaur skeletons and bones destined for the British Museum of Natural History. But the ship, and the fossils, never made it.

06 Dec 2016

Benchmarks: November 13, 1985: Nevado del Ruiz eruption triggers deadly lahars

On Nov. 13, 1985, at a little after 9 p.m. local time, Nevado del Ruiz, a volcano about 130 kilometers from Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá, erupted, spewing a violent mix of hot ash and lava into the atmosphere. Less than three hours later, the earth rumbled as mudflows towering nearly 30 meters high swept through the countryside, several villages and eventually the town of Armero, where it killed 70 percent of the town’s residents. All-told, these mudflows, called lahars, killed more than 23,000 people.

13 Nov 2016

Benchmarks: October 2, 1574: Dutch unleash the ocean as a weapon of war

In 1574, the city of Leiden in the Netherlands was brought to its knees: By August of that year, about 6,000 of the city’s roughly 15,000 inhabitants had either starved to death, been killed by the Black Plague or had succumbed to dysentery. Plague doctors in their crow-beaked masks roamed the streets amid famished and diseased citizens drinking foul water from canals. No one knew when, if ever, help would come, for beyond Leiden’s walls the Spanish army was laying siege and cutting off all supply routes into the city.

02 Oct 2016

Benchmarks: September 8, 1900: Massive hurricane strikes Galveston, Texas

Everyone said it couldn’t happen. City leaders saw no need for an expensive seawall, trusting local meteorologist Isaac Cline when he claimed that it was “impossible for any cyclone to ... materially injure the city.” And so, on the morning of Sept. 8, 1900, when the skies over Galveston, Texas, darkened with rain and the winds blew strong, residents of this booming barrier island community believed their city could weather any storm. By the next morning, the city lay in ruin, blasted by a Category-4 hurricane that killed an estimated 10,000 people — a quarter of the island’s population — and more than the combined death tolls of all other landfalling U.S. hurricanes since.

08 Sep 2016

Benchmarks: August 25, 1916: The National Park Service is established

The U.S. national parks are sanctuaries where one can find refuge in nature and marvel at its grandeur — from the glacially sculpted granitic monoliths of California’s Yosemite to the watery wilderness of Florida’s Everglades. This August, the agency that works to ensure the parks’ preservation for future generations, the National Park Service (NPS), celebrates its 100th anniversary.

25 Aug 2016