On this day in science history: 3 August

From the days of ancient technology to modern science - find out what happened on this day in the history of science.

3rd August 2017
A photographic view of part of the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster), the bright red star at the upper right is the famous variable star Mira (Omicron Ceti). By DSS 2/ESO (http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1212d/) [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons;

A photographic view of part of the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster), the bright red star at the upper right is the famous variable star Mira (Omicron Ceti). By DSS 2/ESO (http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1212d/) [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons;

1596 - Mira, first variable star, discovered

While trying to observe Mercury in the night sky, Dutch amateur astronomer David Fabricius discovers Mira, the first example of a variable star. When first observed, Fabricius noticed the star had a brightness of three on the magnitude scale, which increased to a brightness of two over a few weeks, before fading entirely within two months. It was later measured that the star’s brightness cycled over a period of eleven months. The group of stars that vary in this way, known as Mira variables or Mira-type stars, contains over 6,000 known stars.

READ: How to observe variable stars

1908 - Neanderthal skeleton discovered, misconceptions ensue

Reconstruction of burial of Neanderthal Man (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1995: Anthropology - Reconstruction of a burial of Neanderthal Man (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France. (Photo By DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images)
Reconstruction of burial of Neanderthal Man (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France
© De Agostini/Getty Images

The first relatively complete Neanderthal skeleton is discovered in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France. Due to the heavy brow and low forehead, similar to that of other large apes, scientists of the time believed that they were an unsophisticated, unintelligent, and even brutish species. The Old Man of La Chapelle, as the specimen became known, was reconstructed by Pierre Marcellin Boule to show the hunched, slouching posture we have since come to associate with the species.

However, more recent studies have suggested that Boule’s preconceptions of the species greatly influenced the image he created of them, and led to widespread misconceptions about Homo Neanderthalensis. In fact, it appears that they used tools, were good hunters, took good care of their weak relatives – such as the Old Man of La Chapelle, whose arthritis would have prevented him from eating without help – and even made ornamental objects.

1926 - Traffic lights in Piccadilly Circus

The New Lights Of London (1926) (YouTube/British Pathé) - This video has no sound

Britain’s first electric traffic light system is installed in Piccadilly Circus. In 1868, a gas-operated system of red and green lamps and semaphore arms was installed outside the Houses of Parliament, and was much like a railway signal system. However, the use of gas resulted in an explosion which killed a policeman, and traffic control systems were not installed in Britain again until the American electric system was invented.

1958 - First undersea North Pole voyage made

First undersea North Pole voyage made © US Navy/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
© US Navy/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

The nuclear submarine USS Nautilus makes the first passage under the North Pole, travelling at depths of over 150 metres. Nautilus revolutionised nautical engineering, as it could remain underwater for extended periods of time due to the atomic engine needing no air and minimal quantities of nuclear fuel.

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