Year
1781

William Hershel discovers Uranus

The German-born English astronomer William Hershel discovers Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun. Herschel’s discovery of a new planet was the first to be made in modern times, and also the first to be made by use of a telescope, which allowed Herschel to distinguish Uranus as a planet, not a star, as previous astronomers believed.

Herschel, who was later knighted for his historic discovery, named the planet Georgium Sidus, or the “Georgian Planet,” in honor of King George III of England. However, German astronomer Johann Bode proposed the name “Uranus” for the celestial body in order to conform to the classical mythology-derived names of other known planets. Uranus, the ancient Greek deity of the heavens, was a predecessor of the Olympian gods. By the mid-19th century, it was also the generally accepted name of the seventh planet from the sun.

The planet Uranus is a gas giant like Jupiter and Saturn and is made up of hydrogen, helium, and methane. The third largest planet, Uranus orbits the sun once every 84 earth years and is the only planet to spin perpendicular to its solar orbital plane. In January 1986, the unmanned U.S. spacecraft Voyager 2 visited the planet, discovering 10 additional moons to the five already known, and a system of faint rings around the gas giant.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Tragedy at Dunblane

At Dunblane, a 13th-century village on the edge of the Scottish Highlands, 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton bursts into the gymnasium of the Dunblane Primary School with four guns and opens fire on a kindergarten class. Sixteen children and their teacher, Gwenne Mayor, were fatally ...read more

Czar Alexander II assassinated

Czar Alexander II, the ruler of Russia since 1855, is killed in the streets of St. Petersburg by a bomb thrown by a member of the revolutionary “People’s Will” group. The People’s Will, organized in 1879, employed terrorism and assassination in their attempt to overthrow Russia’s ...read more

“The Love Bug” opens in theaters

On this day in 1969, “The Love Bug,” a Walt Disney movie about the adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie, opens in theaters across the United States. The film, which was based on a 1961 book called “Car, Boy, Girl” by Gordon Buford, centered around down-on-his-luck auto ...read more

U.S. Army launches K-9 Corps

On this day in 1942, the Quartermaster Corps (QMC) of the United States Army begins training dogs for the newly established War Dog Program, or “K-9 Corps.”Well over a million dogs served on both sides during World War I, carrying messages along the complex network of trenches ...read more

Viet Minh attack French garrison

A force of 40,000 Viet Minh with heavy artillery surround 15,000 French troops at Dien Bien Phu. French General Henri Navarre had positioned these forces 200 miles behind enemy lines in a remote area adjacent to the Laotian border. He hoped to draw the communists into a set-piece ...read more

Ban Me Thuot falls

Ban Me Thuot, capital of Darlac Province in the Central Highlands, falls to North Vietnamese troops.In late January 1975, just two years after the cease-fire established by the Paris Peace Accords, the North Vietnamese launched Campaign 275. The objective of this campaign was to ...read more

Johan Santana born

On this day in 1979, power pitcher Johan Santana is born in Tovar Merida, Venezuela. He went on to become the dominant left-handed pitcher in baseball from 2003 to 2006 and won the coveted Cy Young Award as the American League’s top pitcher following the 2004 season and again in ...read more

Houston retreats from Santa Anna’s army

Less than a week after the disastrous defeat of Texas rebels at the Alamo, the newly commissioned Texan General Sam Houston begins a series of strategic retreats to buy time to train his ill-prepared army.Revolutionary Texans had only formally announced their independence from ...read more

Eric Clapton leaves the Yardbirds

In and of itself, one man leaving one band in the middle of the 1960s might warrant little more than a historical footnote. But what makes the departure of Eric Clapton from the Yardbirds on March 13, 1965, more significant is the long and complicated game of musical chairs it ...read more

Henrik Ibsen’s play Ghosts opens in London

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen had written his play Ghosts in 1881. The play, which dealt with syphilis, was swiftly and universally reviled by conventionally minded critics. However, Ibsen’s works had caught on with progressive theater companies across Europe. A decade after ...read more

Quake rocks Turkey

A 6.8-magnitude earthquake near Erzincan, Turkey, and an unusually powerful aftershock two days later kill at least 500 people and leave 50,000 people homeless. Erzincan was a provincial capital city of 90,000 people 600 miles east of Istanbul in Central Turkey. The people of ...read more

Kennedy proposes Alliance for Progress

President John F. Kennedy proposes a 10-year, multibillion-dollar aid program for Latin America. The program came to be known as the Alliance for Progress and was designed to improve U.S. relations with Latin America, which had been severely damaged in recent years.When Kennedy ...read more

Confederacy approves black soldiers

On this day in 1865, with the main Rebel armies facing long odds against must larger Union armies,the Confederacy, in a desperate measure,reluctantly approves the use of black troops. The situation was bleak for the Confederates in the spring of 1865. The Yankees had captured ...read more