First transatlantic radio signal
12 December 1901
Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian physicist, sends the first transatlantic radio signal. The signal travelled over 2,000 miles from Cornwall, England to Newfoundland, Canada. The message transmitted was simply the letter "s" in Morse code. Marconi's achievement paved the way for future key developments in radio.
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Patent for first hovercraft awarded
12 December 1955
British engineer Christopher Cockerell files a patent for the first hovercraft. Cockerell's design was the first to include an inflated ring of air to cushion the craft, and the first hovercraft to be used in practice. Hovercrafts are capable of travelling over different surfaces, including land and water.
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Sir Francis Drake begins circumnavigation of the globe
13 December 1577
Francis Drake sets sail from Plymouth, England aboard The Golden Hind, beginning his circumnavigation of the globe. Although not the first to complete the voyage, his journey is perhaps the most famous, being backed by Elizabeth I. Five ships left from Plymouth, but only The Golden Hind returned at the end of the journey 1,020 days later.
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The South Pole is reached
14 December 1911
A Norwegian group of explorers led by Roald Amundsen are the first people to reach the South Pole. Amundsen kept the target of his mission a secret from everyone, including his crew, and only revealed the aim while they were en route. Tragically, the English rival group of Antarctic explorers, including Robert F Scott, died while attempting the same feat.
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Saturn's moon Janus discovered
15 December 1966
Audouin Dollfus discovers Janus, an inner moon of Saturn. The moon was named after the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, and has an asymmetric shape, looking a little like a potato. Another of Saturn's moons, Epimetheus, is sometimes mistaken for Janus as they share the same orbit.
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Homosexuality declassified as a mental illness
15 December 1973
The American Psychiatric Association votes 13-0 for homosexuality to be declassified as a mental illness. It was subsequently removed from the DSM, the handbook used by psychiatrists worldwide for the diagnosis of mental disorders.
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Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens
15 December 2001
The Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens after being closed to the public for 11 years. The tower closed in 1990, as the angle of the tower was determined to be unsafe after decades of subsidence. During its closure the tower was straightened by 45cm and lead counterweights were added for stabilisation.
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Last eruption of Mount Fuji
16 December 1707
The volcano Mount Fuji, in Japan, erupts for the last time. The eruption didn't release any lava, but produced thick volcanic ash that could be seen over 100km away. Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, and although it hasn't erupted for over 300 years it is still classified as an active stratovolcano.
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Invention of the transistor
16 December 1947
Scientists at Bell Labs, New Jersey invent the transistor, a semiconductor for amplifying electronic signals. The transistor is considered one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century, and is used in most electronic devices. The scientists credited with the invention, Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
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Wright brothers make first manned flight
17 December 1903
Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first sustained flight of a manned aircraft. After weeks of delays and repairs, they are able to fly their aircraft, the Wright Flyer, for a total of 12 seconds, travelling 37 metres. Later that day the Flyer was flipped by a gust of wind, and damaged beyond repair.
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Discovery of nuclear fission
17 December 1938
Scientists at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin observe the nuclear fission of uranium. A sample of uranium was irradiated by neutrons, resulting in the nucleus of the atom splitting into smaller parts. The term "nuclear fission" was coined as the process resembled cell division, or fission, in biology.
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The skull of the Piltdown Man discovered
18 December 1912
Amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claims to find a human-like skull thought to belong to the species that links humans with apes, termed the Piltdown skull. However, in 1949 the skull is tested for age and is determined to be much more recent, and in fact consisted of a human skull with a fragment of orangutan jaw, and labelled a hoax.
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The photon named
18 December 1926
In a letter to Nature, Gilbert Lewis uses the term photon to describe the smallest unit of light. Earlier that century Einstein was the first to describe the concept of a photon when he observed that light did not always behave in a way that fitted the wave model. Photons have no mass and no charge.
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Launch of the first communications satellite
18 December 1958
The first communications satellite, termed SCORE, is launched into space. The satellite gained the attention of the public when it broadcasted a Christmas message from the US President Dwight Eisenhower using an onboard tape recorder. The mission was considered an unequivocal success, and an important scientific breakthrough.
Couple listening to Dwight D. Eisenhower's voice from Atlas Communications Satellite as received on table radio © Eliot Elisofon/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images