On This (Holiday) Date: Celebrating Science & Space (Part 2)

HolidayBeerLast, week, we wrote an “on this date” post, and we decided to share a few reasons to celebrate science or space this week too. The holidays seems a great time to toast to some perhaps hidden historical gems for nerds. See Part 1, which covers some exciting science and space exploration tidbits from December 24-26, HERE.

(And yes, that’s the Anchor holiday beer in the photo, a different flavor brewed each year. We also recommend Sierra Nevada’s Celebration, which seems to be a little more hoppy this year.)

December 30


Rosalinde Hurley was born. We’ve written about women and science before, and we figure that our readers have never heard of this British woman who studied perinatal candida infections, or yeast infections in newborns. Hurley was educated as both a lawyer and a physician. Though she pursued medicine over law as a career, she was an effective administrator and grew increasingly involved in medical ethics. She was knighted in 1998 and died in 2004. You can read a good write-up in The Guardian HERE and note that her interests were varied and intertwined, something we admire in a person.


We’ve written about time before at Lofty Ambitions and about the arbitrary and standardized ways we measure things. When Samoa and Tokelau switched time zones a few years ago, they skipped December 30 to sync up with their new situation. The islands of the Independent State of Samoa jumped over the International Date Line in a quick instant, leaping 24 (or 25 in summer) hours ahead of American Samoa.

December 31


GRAIL launch, September 2011
GRAIL launch, September 2011

The two GRAIL spacecraft established their orbits around the Moon. Lofty Ambitions is especially fond of the GRAIL mission to map the Moon because Doug was at Kennedy Space Center for the launch on September 11. You can see launch photos HERE and read more about the mission’s goal’s HERE. That was also the trip that led to knowing Kim Guodace, who’d been so affected by the Challenger accident as a kid that she vowed to work for NASA to help prevent it from ever happening again.

January 1


Earth (big), Moon (medium), Ceres (small) to scale (but not in relative position)

The dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, was discovered by Giuseppi Piazzi, a Catholic priest who studied and catalogued the literal heavens around us. Piazzi was pretty sure Ceres was a planet but announced it as a comet, just in case he was wrong. The minor planet’s orbit lies between Mars and Jupiter, and it seems to be made mostly of rock and frozen water. In fact, earlier this year, Ceres seems to have emitted water vapor, something unexpected. The first close look we’ll get of Ceres will be when the spacecraft Dawn, launched in 2007, begins to orbit Ceres this coming spring. That’s what’s fascinating about science and space exploration—the story keeps unfolding. Oh, if Giuseppi Piazzi could only see Ceres now!


Harriet Brooks, the first female Canadian nuclear physicist, was born. Her graduate advisor, the esteemed Ernest Rutherford who was the first to understand radioactive half-life, deemed Brooks on par with Marie Curie, under whom she also worked briefly. Brooks was one of the first scientists to study radon, the gas emitted when radium decays (it’s being emitted from the soil all over Earth all the time). In 1907, she left her faculty position after just three years because she got married. Married women were not allowed, at the time, to be faculty at Barnard College, even though it’s a liberal arts college for women. Virginia Gildersleeve, one of Barnard College’s presidents, was a fierce advocate for women in the sciences, and she allowed not only married women but also mothers to serve as faculty and, eventually, established maternity leave. Oh, if only Gildersleeve had reigned a little earlier and Brooks had kept up her research!

And so Lofty Ambitions enters a new year with hopes for a great future.

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