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833 years ago, on August 4, 1181, astronomers in what is now China and Japan noted a supernova, one of several celestial phenomena to be noted by the East but ignored by the West.  Now known as SN 1181 or 3C58, the remains of this massive explosion can still be seen. While plenty of modern scientific words can be dated accurately, the older a word is (in general) the harder it is to pin down a date.  The word supernova however, defies this logic entering the European awarness in the 16th century.  Late October 1604 (and some sources give the date 6 November 1604) a new and bright object appeared in the sky.  German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (born 27 December 1571-15 November 1630) noticed the ‘new' object and unsure what exactly it was, simply named it stella nova, from the Latin words for new star.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that astronomers Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky started using the term super-nova and by 1938 the hyphen was dropped and the word became supernova.  The first reliably recorded supernova was noted by Pliny in AD 185.  Notable supernovae (note the plural maintains the Latin form and does not take the -s that English mostly uses) occurred in 1054, noted mainly by Chinese and Arabic astronomers, and the supernova of 1572 noted extensively by Tycho Brahe.  The definition of supernova: the explosion of a star, possibly caused by gravitational collapse, during which the star’s luminosity increases by as much as 20 magnitudes and most of the star’s mass is blown away at very high velocity.
This image of Supernova 1181 comes from NASA’s Chandra program with this caption:  3C58 is the remnant of a supernova observed in the year 1181 AD by Chinese and Japanese astronomers. This new Chandra image shows the center of 3C58, which contains a rapidly spinning neutron star surrounded by a thick ring, or torus, of X-ray emission. The pulsar also has produced jets of X-rays blasting away from it to both the left and right, and extending trillions of miles. These jets are responsible for creating the elaborate web of loops and swirls revealed in the X-ray data. These features, similar to those found in the Crab, are evidence that 3C58 and others like it are capable of generating both swarms of high-energy particles and powerful magnetic fields. In this image, low, medium, and high-energy X-rays detected by Chandra are red, green, and blue respectively.
 

833 years ago, on August 4, 1181, astronomers in what is now China and Japan noted a supernova, one of several celestial phenomena to be noted by the East but ignored by the West.  Now known as SN 1181 or 3C58, the remains of this massive explosion can still be seen. While plenty of modern scientific words can be dated accurately, the older a word is (in general) the harder it is to pin down a date.  The word supernova however, defies this logic entering the European awarness in the 16th century.  Late October 1604 (and some sources give the date 6 November 1604) a new and bright object appeared in the sky.  German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (born 27 December 1571-15 November 1630) noticed the ‘new' object and unsure what exactly it was, simply named it stella nova, from the Latin words for new star.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that astronomers Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky started using the term super-nova and by 1938 the hyphen was dropped and the word became supernova.  The first reliably recorded supernova was noted by Pliny in AD 185.  Notable supernovae (note the plural maintains the Latin form and does not take the -s that English mostly uses) occurred in 1054, noted mainly by Chinese and Arabic astronomers, and the supernova of 1572 noted extensively by Tycho Brahe.  The definition of supernovathe explosion of a star, possibly caused by gravitational collapse, during which the star’s luminosity increases by as much as 20 magnitudes and most of the star’s mass is blown away at very high velocity.

This image of Supernova 1181 comes from NASA’s Chandra program with this caption:  3C58 is the remnant of a supernova observed in the year 1181 AD by Chinese and Japanese astronomers. This new Chandra image shows the center of 3C58, which contains a rapidly spinning neutron star surrounded by a thick ring, or torus, of X-ray emission. The pulsar also has produced jets of X-rays blasting away from it to both the left and right, and extending trillions of miles. These jets are responsible for creating the elaborate web of loops and swirls revealed in the X-ray data. These features, similar to those found in the Crab, are evidence that 3C58 and others like it are capable of generating both swarms of high-energy particles and powerful magnetic fields. In this image, low, medium, and high-energy X-rays detected by Chandra are red, green, and blue respectively.

 

Friday, August 1, 2014
Happy Birthday OXYGEN.  I guess.  Words enter language and sometimes words disappear-often as quickly as they appeared.  In the transition from the ancient ideas of the ‘four elements’ of earth, air, fire and water, to the modern Periodic table, scientists struggled to understand basic chemical reactions such as oxidation.  In 1730 the word phlogiston entered the scientific vocabulary, meaning a hypothetical inflammatory principle, formerly believed to exist in all combustible matter, and later extended to cover reactions such as oxidation.  The word came into English from Modern Latin around 1702, which came from the Ancient Greek word φλογιστον phlogiston (1610s in this sense), neuter of φλογιστος phlogistos meaning burnt up, inflammable, from φλογιζειν phlogizein, to set on fire, burn, which came from from φλοχ phlox (genitive phlogos) flame, blaze.  The theory was propounded by German chemist George Ernst Stahl in 1702, denied by French chemist Antoine Lavoisier by 1775, defended by English theologian and chemist Joseph Priestley but generally abandoned by 1800. When Lavoisier composed the word oxygen in 1777 (in French, oxygen entered English in 1790), he was reacting to and rejecting the idea of phlogiston, composing his word from the Ancient Greek word oxys meaning sharp or acid and the -gene suffix used to indicate the origin orformation of something.  The word was meant to indicate‘acidifying principle’ because it was considered essential in the formation of acids, though this has since been shown not to be true. In fact, when Priestley isolated oxygen for the first time on August 1, 1774 he called it deplhogisticated air, but Lavoisier’s endeavors a year later meant the end of the phlogiston.
Image of iron oxidation courtesy Dustin Jamison, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

Happy Birthday OXYGEN.  I guess.  Words enter language and sometimes words disappear-often as quickly as they appeared.  In the transition from the ancient ideas of the ‘four elements’ of earth, air, fire and water, to the modern Periodic table, scientists struggled to understand basic chemical reactions such as oxidation.  In 1730 the word phlogiston entered the scientific vocabulary, meaning a hypothetical inflammatory principle, formerly believed to exist in all combustible matter, and later extended to cover reactions such as oxidation.  The word came into English from Modern Latin around 1702, which came from the Ancient Greek word φλογιστον phlogiston (1610s in this sense), neuter of φλογιστος phlogistos meaning burnt up, inflammable, from φλογιζειν phlogizeinto set on fire, burn, which came from from φλοχ phlox (genitive phlogosflame, blaze.  The theory was propounded by German chemist George Ernst Stahl in 1702, denied by French chemist Antoine Lavoisier by 1775, defended by English theologian and chemist Joseph Priestley but generally abandoned by 1800. When Lavoisier composed the word oxygen in 1777 (in French, oxygen entered English in 1790), he was reacting to and rejecting the idea of phlogiston, composing his word from the Ancient Greek word oxys meaning sharp or acid and the -gene suffix used to indicate the origin orformation of something.  The word was meant to indicate‘acidifying principle’ because it was considered essential in the formation of acids, though this has since been shown not to be true. In fact, when Priestley isolated oxygen for the first time on August 1, 1774 he called it deplhogisticated air, but Lavoisier’s endeavors a year later meant the end of the phlogiston.

Image of iron oxidation courtesy Dustin Jamison, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew blasted off and four days later opened the door of the lunar module and Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the lunar surface.  Armstrong’s radio back to Earth that his was ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ became instantly one of the most quoted and known phrases uttered in the name of science.  The Apollo program was started less than a decade earlier with success following success.  Named by then NASA Director Abe Silverstein (who later said it was like naming his baby) after the Ancient Greek god known for knowledge and who was represented as a flaming chariot shooting across the sky.  Hats off today to Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.  All born in 1930 and still healthy and looking to the skies.  

Thanks also to the flight crew:

SUPPORT CREW

  • Charlie Duke, Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM)
  • Ronald Evans (CAPCOM)
  • Owen K. Garriott (CAPCOM)
  • Don L. Lind (CAPCOM)
  • Ken Mattingly (CAPCOM)
  • Bruce McCandless II (CAPCOM)
  • Harrison Schmitt (CAPCOM)
  • Bill Pogue
  • Jack Swigert

FLIGHT DIRECTORS

  • Cliff Charlesworth (Green Team), launch andEVA
  • Gene Kranz(White Team), lunar landing
  • Glynn Lunney(Black Team), lunar ascent

All images courtesy NASA, used with permission and in the public domain.  Please copy and share!

Thursday, July 3, 2014
July is always hot in the Northern Hemisphere, and today will see record temperatures throughout most of North America.  The sun, however, is currently about as far from us as it gets in its yearly journey.  Peak aphelion occurs this year today, July 3, despite what you might believe from the thermometer!  The word aphelion was coined by Johannes Kepler, the German mathematician and astronomer, based on converting the Modern Latin word aphelium back to its Ancient Greek origins on the model of Ptolemy’s word apogaeum (see the modern English word apogee) meaning away from the earth.  Ptolemy’s word reflected a time when the Earth stood at the center of the planetary and solar system, and not the sun.  By extension the word perihelion was formed, also from the Ancient Greek roots:  where apo- meant away from peri- meant near, and helion designated the sun.  Next time you step outside into the blistering sun, remember that it is about as far away as it gets!
While Kepler is considered the chief proponent of the Copernican system and a leading figure of the astronomical revolution, he died in 1630-and the word aphelion didn’t see common use in English until 1670.
Image courtesy www.mydarksky.org, a very cool site, check it out!

July is always hot in the Northern Hemisphere, and today will see record temperatures throughout most of North America.  The sun, however, is currently about as far from us as it gets in its yearly journey.  Peak aphelion occurs this year today, July 3, despite what you might believe from the thermometer!  The word aphelion was coined by Johannes Kepler, the German mathematician and astronomer, based on converting the Modern Latin word aphelium back to its Ancient Greek origins on the model of Ptolemy’s word apogaeum (see the modern English word apogee) meaning away from the earth.  Ptolemy’s word reflected a time when the Earth stood at the center of the planetary and solar system, and not the sun.  By extension the word perihelion was formed, also from the Ancient Greek roots:  where apo- meant away from peri- meant near, and helion designated the sun.  Next time you step outside into the blistering sun, remember that it is about as far away as it gets!

While Kepler is considered the chief proponent of the Copernican system and a leading figure of the astronomical revolution, he died in 1630-and the word aphelion didn’t see common use in English until 1670.

Image courtesy www.mydarksky.org, a very cool site, check it out!

Although the patent was granted in January 1886, it wasn’t until July 3, 1886 that Karl Benz successfully demonstrated his three wheeled automobile on a public road.  The qualification ‘successfully’ is important to note as earlier attempts at  demonstration had ended in a crash.  The patent Karl Benz received was for a three wheeled internal combustion engine, but the word automobile was coined in 1883 as part of the French phrase véhicule automobile and referred then to electric driven traction vehicules.  It was his wife Bertha Benz however, who stole the show and entered history in August of that year, sneaking out with the kids and embarking the very first ever road trip, driving that first prototype automobile from Mannheim to Pforzheim to visit her mother, a distance of over one hundred kilometers.  She encountered many difficulties along the way, stopping even to invent brake lining to allow the journey to continue.  Bertha arrived at nightfall and promptly sent Karl a telegram announcing her acheivement.

 The adjective automobile was a combination of the Ancient Greek word  (autos) meaning self and the French word mobile which derived from the Latin wordmobilis meaning movable. The word arrived in English as a noun in 1895.  Early drivers had several words to describe the new technologies:  locomobile, autocar, motorcar.  So Happy Birthday to the car.  I guess.
Image of the Benz Patent Motorwagen in the public domain.

Although the patent was granted in January 1886, it wasn’t until July 3, 1886 that Karl Benz successfully demonstrated his three wheeled automobile on a public road.  The qualification ‘successfully’ is important to note as earlier attempts at  demonstration had ended in a crash.  The patent Karl Benz received was for a three wheeled internal combustion engine, but the word automobile was coined in 1883 as part of the French phrase véhicule automobile and referred then to electric driven traction vehicules.  It was his wife Bertha Benz however, who stole the show and entered history in August of that year, sneaking out with the kids and embarking the very first ever road trip, driving that first prototype automobile from Mannheim to Pforzheim to visit her mother, a distance of over one hundred kilometers.  She encountered many difficulties along the way, stopping even to invent brake lining to allow the journey to continue.  Bertha arrived at nightfall and promptly sent Karl a telegram announcing her acheivement.

 The adjective automobile was a combination of the Ancient Greek word  (autos) meaning self and the French word mobile which derived from the Latin wordmobilis meaning movable. The word arrived in English as a noun in 1895.  Early drivers had several words to describe the new technologies:  locomobile, autocar, motorcar.  So Happy Birthday to the car.  I guess.

Image of the Benz Patent Motorwagen in the public domain.

Monday, June 30, 2014
The Yellow Headed Blackbird is a medium sized blackbird native to the western half of North America, migrating from Canada and the Great Lakes region down to the bottom of Mexico.  Identified and named in 1850 by Charles Lucien Jules Laurent Bonaparte, the 2nd Prince of Canino and Musgnano, Bonaparte named the genus xanthocephalus and the only species of the genus also xanthocephalus, from the Ancient Greek word xanthos (χανθος) meaning yellow and cephalos (κεφαλή) meaning head.  The great nephew of Napolean, Lucien married Zenaide, with whom he had twelve children and after whom he named a genus of mourning doves.  
Image of a Yellow headed Blackbird used with permission courtesy Eugene Beckes under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

The Yellow Headed Blackbird is a medium sized blackbird native to the western half of North America, migrating from Canada and the Great Lakes region down to the bottom of Mexico.  Identified and named in 1850 by Charles Lucien Jules Laurent Bonaparte, the 2nd Prince of Canino and Musgnano, Bonaparte named the genus xanthocephalus and the only species of the genus also xanthocephalus, from the Ancient Greek word xanthos (χανθος) meaning yellow and cephalos (κεφαλή) meaning head.  The great nephew of Napolean, Lucien married Zenaide, with whom he had twelve children and after whom he named a genus of mourning doves.  

Image of a Yellow headed Blackbird used with permission courtesy Eugene Beckes under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Summer Solstice from Kids Need Science! Begins right now, June 21, 2014, 6:51 Eastern Standard Time, 10:51 UTC.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

When the word calculator entered English in the late 14th century, it referred to a mathematician or person who calculated or tabulated things.  The word calculator derived from the Latin word of the same spelling, from the past participle of calculare, meaning to reckon or compute.  The Latin word calculare had its own interesting derivation, coming from the diminutive of calx, as calculus, meaning a pebble or counting stone as it is supposed that early Roman mathematicians and accountants used pebbles to aid in large calculations.  It wasn’t until 1784 that word was used to denote a mechanical contraption to count or perform math and wasn’t applied to an electronic device until June 1946, when a Scientific American headline announced “Electronic calculator uses 18,000 tubes to solve complex problems.”

French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal was one of the first to create one of these machines, illustrated above, in 1642, which became known briefly as a pascaline.  In 1820, French inventor Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar re-created something like a cross between Pascal’s machine and Gottfried Leibniz’s evolution of that machine, which he called the arithmometer.  

Blaise Pascal was born on this day, June 19, 1623-you can use your calculator, as I did, to calculate that was 391 years ago.  Bonne anniversaire, Blaise!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Today is the birthday of William Lassell, born on June 18, 1799 in Bolton, near Manchester, Lassell made his fortune brewing beer which allowed him to pursue his real passion in astronomy.  Lassell made many contributions to the science of astronomy, including an equatorial mount for his home-made telescopes that allowed him track objects more accurately.  In 1846 Neptune was discovered by German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle after a protracted search for outer planets.  It was English astronomer John Herschel who suggested to Lassell that he attempt to discover whether or not Neptune had any satellites.  A mere 17 days after accepting the task on October 10, 1846, Lassell was able to confirm the existence of Neptune’s largest satellite, which he proposed to name Triton (Τριτων).  Just a bit smaller than our own moon, Triton is the largest satellite in our solar system with retrograde motion. The name of Triton was first proposed decades later by Camille Flammarion from the Ancient Greek sea god Triton, the son of Poseidon-the Roman equivalent of Neptune.  

Lassell continued in his duel role as a brewer of beer and astronomer until his death on October 5, 1880 leaving behind a massive fortune estimated at the equivalent of almost $10 million dollars in today’s currency.

Summer is here and in many places that means fireflies!  Fireflies (lampyridae) are a family of beetle in the order coeloptera-sheathed or covered wing insects-with a bioluminescent tail composed of a protein known as luciferase.   Luciferase (and the related words luciferalluciferin, etc.) take their name from Lucifer which is a combination of two Latin words lux, lucis meaning light and ferre meaning to bear or to carry.  Lucifer was thus the bringer of light.  While this image of the protein structure is colored for illustration only, it is nice that it looks so much like fireworks!  The family lampyridae come from a Neo-Latin formation from the Ancient Greek lampouris, a glow worm (also occasionally refers to a fox) from lampein meaning to shine and oura meaning a tail.  Lampein is one of those great words that exists today virtually unchanged in spelling, meaning and pronunciation!

Image of a common firefly courtesy  under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Image of Crystal structure of Photinus pyralis firefly luciferase as published in the Protein Data Bank, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

 
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