This Day in Geek History: April 30
Supernova SN 1006, the brightest supernova in recorded history, occurs in the southern constellation Lupus, near the star Beta Lupi. Chinese and Arabic astronomers note the supernova, but the speed of the still-expanding shock wave won’t be measured for nearly a millennium. The event is also recorded by observers in Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland. From the careful descriptions recorded by Chinese astronomers of how the light varies, the Supernova is apparently yellow in color and visible for over a year.
Samuel Pepys makes his first diary reference to the Great Plague in London. “Great fears of the sicknesses here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.” The diary entries continue throughout the year, documenting the terrible conditions in the city as many thousands die, until Winter’s freezing cold reduces the number of fleas that spread the disease. The symptoms of the plague begin like those of a bad cold. A high fever follows, with vomiting and painful black swellings, called buboes appearing in the groin and under the armpits. His diaries will cover a period from January 1660 to May 1669. In them, he will also write about the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The first U.S. patent for a pill of any kind is issued to Samuel Lee, Jr., of Connecticut, for a “Composition of bilious pills” which he markets as “Lee’s Windham Pills.” The pills are highly popular for a long period. An 1803 advertisement for “Doctor Lee’s Patent New-London Bilious Pills” will describe them as “Interesting to all sea-faring People” and promise to cure a variety of ills, including “foul stomachs, where pukes are indicated.”
Louis Pasteur lectures at the French Academy of Science in support of his germ theory of disease, in which he holds that many diseases are caused by tiny organisms. Pasteur also describes ways to prevent infection, and provides skeptics with an experiment with which to prove the theory to themselves.
The Edison Electric Illuminating Co. is incorporated. It will later build the first three-wire central station for incandescent lighting in the U.S.
At the Royal Institution Friday Evening Discourse, Joseph John Thomson, first announces the existence of what will later be known as electrons. Thomson tells the audience that earlier in the year, he had made a surprising discovery. He had found a particle of matter a thousand times smaller than the atom. He calls it a corpuscle, meaning “small body.” Although Thomson is the director of the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, and one of the most respected scientists in Great Britain, the scientists present find the news difficult to believe. They believe that the atom is the smallest and most indivisible part of matter in existence. Nevertheless, the electron is historically the first elementary particle to be discovered.
The two millionth U.S. patent is granted to Joseph Ledwinka for a method of vehicle wheel construction.
Cosmic rays entering a Geiger-Mueller counter produce electrical impulses used to control electrical power. The first ever such event is used for the illumination ceremony of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The counter, at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, switches on an electrical circuit wired to a display at the Lagoon of Nations where relays activate local battery circuits, ringing bells and flashing lights to signal each capture of a cosmic ray. Guest speaker Albert Einstein explains cosmic rays. Unfortunately, his accent and a faulty amplification system render his words incomprehensible to the crowd. Upon the tenth ray’s signal, a huge light is meant to be turned on to illuminate the 600 foot Trylon triangular spire, but the power source fails.
The RCA-owned NBC network launches regular public television service with the formal opening of the 1939 New York World’s Fair by President Franklin Roosevelt. (It is the first of only two appearances Roosevelt will make on television.) The service will air two hours of programs a week, to be received on RCA sets, in order to “to make the art of television available to the public.” By the end of the year, a thousand receivers will be sold in the U.S. The screens of the receivers are initially only about five inches across.