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On September 19, 1848, astronomers William Cranch Bond, George Phillips Bond and William Lassell discovered the first non-sperical, irregular moon orbiting the planet Saturn, which they named Hyperion (Ὑπερίων) after the Greek god/titan who was the brother of Cronus (the Greek equivalent of Saturn). Looking like a giant potato in the sky,
Hyperion is the second largest non-sperical satellite discovered, measuring 360.2×266×205.4 km. Lassell and Bond both observed Hyperion independently of each other only days apart, and only a year after William Herschel had published Results of Astronomical Observations made at the Cape of Good Hope in which he suggested the name scheme for the first seven moons of Saturn, and which Lassell and Bond used when they proposed Hyperion.

Images of Hyperion courtesy NASA/Cassini

Thursday, September 18, 2014
Today is the birthday of Jean Bernard Léon Foucault, born in 1821 to a publisher in Paris.  In addition to defining and inventing the Foucault pendulum, Foucault is credited with naming the gyroscope.  But first, the pendulum.  Since the time of Galileo who defined the laws governing the motion of pendulums, but Foucault was the first to use the pendulum to show the rotation of the earth independent of celestial observation.  Before he was thirty he devised an experiment to measure the speed of light.  Today he is known more for the pendulum that bears his name than any of his other achievements.  The word pendulum is a New Latin neuter of the noun pendulus meaning hanging down from the verb pendere meaning to hang.
Image of a Foucault pendulum at the Pantheon in Paris.

Today is the birthday of Jean Bernard Léon Foucault, born in 1821 to a publisher in Paris. In addition to defining and inventing the Foucault pendulum, Foucault is credited with naming the gyroscope. But first, the pendulum. Since the time of Galileo who defined the laws governing the motion of pendulums, but Foucault was the first to use the pendulum to show the rotation of the earth independent of celestial observation. Before he was thirty he devised an experiment to measure the speed of light. Today he is known more for the pendulum that bears his name than any of his other achievements. The word pendulum is a New Latin neuter of the noun pendulus meaning hanging down from the verb pendere meaning to hang.
Image of a Foucault pendulum at the Pantheon in Paris.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Science, and particularly taxonomy, presents many challenges for scientists, especially in naming. Entomology, and particularly lepidepterology, presents even more challenges. Consider the butterfly genus polygonia illustrated above: look carefully at the wing undersides for a small white mark. The top row is the Polygonia interrogationis, commonly known as the Question Mark Butterfly, distinguished by the small white mark (can you see the period under the swoosh?) in the shape of a question mark. Now look carefully at the bottom row, where a very similar white mark gives the Polygonia comma (commonly known as the Comma Butterfly) its name. To a casual observer these marks are barely noticeable and almost indistinguishable one from the other. For Johan Christian Fabricius, the great Danish entomologist, the differences were both clear and compelling. A student of the father of taxonomy Carl Linneaus, Fabricius was at the very forefront of taxonomy at an incredibly important time. He was also absurdly prolific and dedicated: while Carl Linneaus is considered the founder of taxonomy he only named some 3,000 species. Fabricius on the other hand named over 10,000 in his forty year career. Hence the very small but suddenly very important difference in those two little white squiggles!

Classically educated scientists and naturalists of the time were well educated in both Latin and Ancient Greek and were often fluent in multiple languages. Naming conventions often took small, concrete and descriptive details into account and formulated names to describe the species from the ancient languages. Here, polygonia comes from the Ancient Greek words πολυς polus meaning many and γονια gonia meaning angle, a description of the angular wings typical of the genus. The Latin word interrogationis is almost identical to its English equivalent interrogation with almost the same meaning, to question. And the word comma is an English transliteration of the Ancient Greek word κομμα komma, meaning a break or pause.


Top Left: The Question Mark butterfly, image of top of wings by Derek Ramsay.

Top right: Question Mark butterfly, image of wing underside by John B.

Bottom Left: Comma wing tops, image by D. Gordon E. Robertson, PhD, Fellow of Canadian Society for Biomechanics, Emeritus Professor, School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

Bottom Right: Comma underside image by Kaldari.

All images used under a Creative Commons 3.0 license, with much gratitude.

By now you have probably heard of the impending Nutella crisis, as a tough season has lowered crop yields of hazelnuts and filberts have sent nut prices soaring.  Hazelnuts and filberts have been known and cultivated for almost 10,000 years.  Although the names hazelnut and filbert have been used synonymously, they are different nuts.  There are around 14-18 species in the Corylus family (from the Latin word for hazel, corylus).  The filbert takes its name from the 7th century French Saint Philibert of Jumieges, whose saint day is August 20th, for the time the nut ripened in England.  

By now you have probably heard of the impending Nutella crisis, as a tough season has lowered crop yields of hazelnuts and filberts have sent nut prices soaring.  Hazelnuts and filberts have been known and cultivated for almost 10,000 years.  Although the names hazelnut and filbert have been used synonymously, they are different nuts.  There are around 14-18 species in the Corylus family (from the Latin word for hazel, corylus).  The filbert takes its name from the 7th century French Saint Philibert of Jumieges, whose saint day is August 20th, for the time the nut ripened in England.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Today is the birthday of physicist Louis Essen, born September 6, 1908, inventor of the cesium atomic clock.  Cesium (also spelled caesium) was discovered using the new method of flame spectroscopy in 1860 by two German scientists, Robert Bunsen (yes, of Bunsen burner fame) and Gustav Kirchhoff.  They decided to name the new element after its unusual and unique spectrographic signature, specifically the preponderance of the color sky blue, which you can see in the spectrograph above.  The word came from the Latin word caesius meaning blue-gray, often referring to the color of eyes.  

Image of pollucite (a common mineral rich in cesium) courtesy Rob Lavinsky.  Image of ampule of liquid cesium (although a metal, cesium is liquid at room temperature) by argentoratum.   To see the spectrograph of any element, check out the cool site by University of Oregon.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014
On Aug. 30, 1992, astronomers Jane Luu and David Jewitt discovered an object in the outer solar system that had been predicted since the 1930s, which became the first Kuiper Belt object and which was given the name 1992 QB1.  After the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh, astronomer Frederick Leonard proposed the existence of a trans-Neptunian poplulation, wondering whether it was “not likely that in Pluto there has come to light the first of a series of ultra-Neptunian bodies, the remaining members of which still await discovery but which are destined eventually to be detected”.  In 1987 David Jewitt (then at MIT) directed then graduate student Jane Luu to begin looking for objects outside of Pluto’s orbit as Leonard and others had proposed.  The work was slow and painstaking, using technology developed decades earlier, but breakthroughs came when they began using  CCD (charge-coupled devices).  Since the first Kuiper Belt Object was discovered, over 100,000 KBOs over 100km in diameter have been discovered.  They were named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, who discovered the moon Miranda orbiting Uranus and Nereid orbiting Neptune, as well as pioneering the use of infra-red observation.  Kuiper also worked with the Apollo program to identify landing sites on the moon.  

On Aug. 30, 1992, astronomers Jane Luu and David Jewitt discovered an object in the outer solar system that had been predicted since the 1930s, which became the first Kuiper Belt object and which was given the name 1992 QB1.  After the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh, astronomer Frederick Leonard proposed the existence of a trans-Neptunian poplulation, wondering whether it was “not likely that in Pluto there has come to light the first of a series of ultra-Neptunian bodies, the remaining members of which still await discovery but which are destined eventually to be detected”.  In 1987 David Jewitt (then at MIT) directed then graduate student Jane Luu to begin looking for objects outside of Pluto’s orbit as Leonard and others had proposed.  The work was slow and painstaking, using technology developed decades earlier, but breakthroughs came when they began using  CCD (charge-coupled devices).  Since the first Kuiper Belt Object was discovered, over 100,000 KBOs over 100km in diameter have been discovered.  They were named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, who discovered the moon Miranda orbiting Uranus and Nereid orbiting Neptune, as well as pioneering the use of infra-red observation.  Kuiper also worked with the Apollo program to identify landing sites on the moon.  

Monday, August 4, 2014
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!

 
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