July 21st 1969 is going to take some beating as far as big days go. I’ve been thinking about it, and it’s just really obvious that nobody has ever done anything even remotely as impressive as walking on the Moon. The more one thinks about it, the less likely it seems that it was even possible with 1960′s technology (don’t forget that the processors used in the guidance system were smaller than the ones available in home computers just a decade later, and my android phone is obviously from a different planet).
Maybe something to top it will come along eventually (the first gay pope to visit Mars, maybe?) but in the meantime, here are a couple of other events being commemorated and largely forgotten in the enormous shadow thrown by Neil Armstrong’s boots.
1914 – Discovery of Jupiter’s moon Sinope by S B Nicholson, while he was working as a summer assistant at Lick Observatory. The ninth satellite of Jupiter to be spotted, Sinope was, as I say, discovered in 1914, but didn’t receive a proper name until 1975; until then it was simply “Jupiter IX”. It was named, along with eight other moons, “on the recommendation of the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature” of the IAC. Nicholson’s discovery was slightly serendipitous, as he was actually photographing “Jupiter VIII” at the time with the 36-inch British-built Crossley Reflector, a device the observatory had bought from it’s previous owner when it became obvious that the skies above Halifax, England, were a waste of a large telescope.
1998 – RIP Alan Shepard. Shepard (another of the Mercury Seven) was, as commander of Apollo 14, the fifth man on the Moon, and the first to play golf there. It’s perhaps just as well that the Americans conquered the Moon. I doubt the effect would have been quite the same when the first Briton on the surface got his dartboard out.
1961 – Launch of MR-1, the first unmanned spacecraft of the Mercury project. A spectacular failure, it managed to attain an altitude of four inches in a flight lasting 2 seconds.
2006 – Discovery of Actaea, the satellite of trans-Neptunian object 120347 Salacia.