This Week in History: February 19-25


This week in history: First weather maps, separation of the judiciary and executive branches, and discovered pulsars. Read more below and dive deeper with The Great Courses Plus.

February 19th 1855– First weather map presented at the French Academy of Sciences

Photo of Urbain Le Verrier
Photo of Urbain Le Verrier

Starting in the middle portion of the 19th century, weather charts as we know them today were used to track storm systems.

The catalyst of the movement was a devastating storm that took out a whole French fleet at the battle of Balaklava during the Crimean War. Urbain Le Verrier, a mathematician specializing in celestial mechanics, showed a chronological map of the storm and how it could have been predicted and avoided by the fleet. This was presented at the French Academy of Sciences and the study of meteorology as its known today took off.

Learn more about weather in Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather.

February 24th 1803– Marbury v. Madison

Image of Draft of Motion Rule for Marbury v. Madison
Draft of Motion Rule for Marbury v. Madison

After the tumultuous election of 1800,  southern Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson took office on March 4, 1801. Between the election and inauguration, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801 establishing ten new district courts, expanding the amount of circuit courts from three to six, and adding additional judges to each circuit, “giving the President the authority to appoint Federal judges and justices of the peace. The act also reduced the number of Supreme Court justices from six to five, effective upon the next vacancy in the Court.”¹ When Thomas Jefferson became president, he sent a petition to the Supreme Court by William Marbury who had been appointed Justice of the Peace by outgoing president John Adams, but whose commission was not delivered. The case forms the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. The petition was denied and the Jefferson administration had to honor the appointments of the previous president.

Learn more about landmark cases in the US with History of the Supreme Court.

February 24th, 1968– Discovery of Pulsar results presented

Image of Pulsar PSR B1509-58
PSR B1509-58 – X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are gold; Infrared from WISE in red, green and blue/max.

Jocelyn Bell-Burnell and Antony Hewish observed pulsars for the first time on November 28, 1967. The pulsars (protmantu of “pulsing stars”) were observed with 1.33 seconds between pulses. They determined it could not be a man-made radio frequency interference. They named the pulsar the LGM-1 (standing for “Little Green Men,” a tongue in cheek play on extraterrestrials). When another pulsar was observed, the idea of advanced civilization was dismissed, and the naming convention changed to PSR, LGM-1 became PSR1919+21. On February 24 of the next year, Bell-Burnell and Hewish presented their findings and would eventually earn Hewish Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974 for their discovery.

Learn more about the celestial discoveries made in The Life and Death of Stars.
Attribution and citations:
¹Federal Judicial History, The Judiciary Act of 1801— Historical Note 2 Stat.89