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history

Down to Earth With: The Swindling Geologist

When Clarence Dutton spoke, people listened. As one of the most famous geologists of the late 1800s, he regularly attracted large crowds to his talks. He also had a way with women. The president of an Indiana literary society once wrote to Dutton to confirm a lecture and assured the speaker that “the ladies would be delighted to see him again.”

 
10 Oct 2011

Benchmarks: April 9, 1895: James Edward Keeler confirms Saturn's rings not solid

On April 9 and 10, 1895, astronomer James Edward Keeler snapped the most important photographs of his life. With a 13-inch (33-centimeter) refracting telescope, Keeler captured proof that Saturn’s rings were not solid disks, but instead a collection of particles revolving around the planet. The discovery put to rest a question that astronomers had been pondering for more than two centuries.
 
01 Apr 2011

Keeler's legacy

James Edward Keeler led a brief life, but his legacy lives on. Scientists have named several natural phenomena after him.
 
01 Apr 2011

On Hannibal's Trail: The clues are in the geology

Standing at the summit of one of the Alps’ tallest mountain passes in the fall of 218 B.C., Hannibal peered into enemy territory: Italy’s Po River Valley. The panorama was reassuring. Hannibal’s plan — a sneak attack of the Romans on their own soil — was at last within reach. As his army trudged along a snow-covered path, Hannibal, Carthage’s greatest military leader, used the sight of Italy to encourage his ailing troops to keep going.

They needed the encouragement.

01 Oct 2010

Benchmarks: August 2, 1922: Marines invade Teapot Dome, deepen scandal

Early in the morning of Aug. 2, 1922, soldiers from the United States Marine Corps arrived at the train station in Casper, Wyo. They had been traveling for three days from the East Coast to reach an important government facility, officially designated the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3 (NPR-3), better known as Teapot Dome. Their orders, which President Warren Harding had approved only the week before, were to evict trespassers from a small oil claim in the northern end of the reserve. Following a quick breakfast, the soldiers proceeded north by car under the command of Capt. George K. Shuler. He had hand-picked the men, with whom he had fought in World War I.
 
02 Aug 2010

March 23, 1821: Bauxite Discovered

Compared to gold, silver, lead and copper — metals that people have extracted, refined and used for millennia — aluminum is a relative newcomer. Pure aluminum was more valuable than gold when it was first discovered in the early 19th century. It graced the fine china of Napoleon III and was displayed next to the French Crown Jewels at the 1855 Paris Exhibition. Today, aluminum is cheap and plentiful, used in everyday products ranging from soda cans to jets. The transformation of the metal from unknown material to rare metal to ubiquity in fewer than two centuries is due to two pivotal discoveries: an abundant aluminum ore — bauxite — and a process of refining this ore using electricity.
 
23 Mar 2010

The Washington Monument's Apex

An aluminum pinnacle has graced the Washington Monument since 1884, but subsequent modifications have changed the look of the point. 

23 Mar 2010

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: 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

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

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