On this day:
1178 – Five Canterbury monks see what is possibly the Giordano Bruno crater being formed. It is believed that the current oscillations of the Moon’s distance from the Earth (on the order of meters) are a result of this collision.
Giordano Bruno is a 22 km lunar impact crater on the far side of the Moon, just beyond the northeastern limb. At this location it lies in an area that can be viewed during a favorable libration, although at such times the area is viewed from the side and not much detail can be seen. It lies between the craters Harkhebi to the northwest and Szilard to the southeast.
When viewed from orbit, Giordano Bruno is at the center of a symmetrical ray system of ejecta that has a higher albedo than the surrounding surface. The ray material extends for over 150 kilometers and has not been significantly darkened by space erosion. Some of the ejecta appears to extend as far as the crater Boss, over 300 km to the northwest. The outer rim of the crater is especially bright, compared to its surroundings. To all appearances this is a young formation that was created in the relatively recent past, geologically speaking. The actual age is unknown, but is estimated to be less than 350 million years.
This feature was named after the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno.
Five monks from Canterbury reported to the abbey’s chronicler, Gervase, that shortly after sunset on June 18, 1178, (25 June on the proleptic Gregorian calendar) they saw “the upper horn [of the moon] split in two”. Furthermore, Gervase writes:
From the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the Moon which was below writhed, as it were in anxiety, and to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the Moon throbbed like a wounded snake. Afterwards it resumed its proper state. This phenomenon was repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then, after these transformations, the Moon from horn to horn, that is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance.
In 1976, the geologist Jack B. Hartung proposed that this described the formation of the crater Giordano Bruno.
Modern theories predict that a (conjectural) asteroid or comet impact on the Moon would cause a plume of molten matter rising up from the surface, which is consistent with the monks’ description. In addition, the location recorded fits in well with the crater’s location. Additional evidence of Giordano Bruno’s youth is its spectacular ray system: because micrometeorites constantly rain down, they kick up enough dust to quickly (in geological terms) erode a ray system, so it can be reasonably hypothesized that Giordano Bruno was formed during the span of human history, perhaps in June 1178.
However, the question of the crater’s age is not that simple. The impact creating the 22-km-wide crater would have kicked up 10 million tons of debris, triggering a week-long, blizzard-like meteor storm on Earth – yet no accounts of such a noteworthy storm of unprecedented intensity are found in any known historical records, including the European, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese and Korean astronomical archives. This discrepancy is a major objection to the theory that Giordano Bruno was formed at that time.
This raises the question of what the monks saw. An alternative theory holds that the monks just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see an exploding meteor coming at them and aligned with the Moon. This would explain why the monks were the only people known to have witnessed the event; such an alignment would only be observable from a specific spot on the Earth’s surface.
Born on this day:
1932 – Dudley R. Herschbach, American chemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate
Dudley Robert Herschbach (born June 18, 1932) is an American chemist at Harvard University. He won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly with Yuan T. Lee and John C. Polanyi “for their contributions concerning the dynamics of chemical elementary processes.” Herschbach and Lee specifically worked with molecular beams, performing crossed molecular beam experiments that enabled a detailed molecular-level understanding of many elementary reaction processes. Herschbach is a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Early life and education
Herschbach was born in San Jose, California on June 18, 1932. The eldest of six children, he grew up in a rural area. He graduated from Campbell High School, where he played football. Offered both athletic and academic scholarships to Stanford University, Herschbach chose the academic. His freshman advisor, Harold S. Johnston, hired him as a summer research assistant, and taught him chemical kinetics in his senior year. His master’s research involved calculating Arrhenius A-factors for gas-phase reactions. Herschbach received a B.S. in mathematics in 1954 and an M.S. in chemistry in 1955 from Stanford University.
Herschbach then attended Harvard University where he earned a A.M. in physics in 1956 and a Ph.D. in chemical physics in 1958 under the direction of Edgar Bright Wilson. At Harvard, Herschbach examined tunnel splitting in molecules, using microwave spectroscopy. He was awarded a three-year Junior Fellowship in the Society of Fellows at Harvard, lasting from 1957 to 1959.
In 1959, Herschbach joined the University of California at Berkeley, where he was appointed an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and became an Associate Professor in 1961. At Berkeley, he and graduate students George Kwei and James Norris constructed a cross-beam instrument large enough for reactive scattering experiments involve alkali and various molecular partners. His interest in studying elementary chemical processes in molecular-beam reactive collisions challenged an often-accepted belief that “collisions do not occur in crossed molecular beams”. The results of his studies of K + CH3I were the first to provide a detailed view of an elementary collision, demonstrating a direct rebound process in which the KI product recoiled from an incoming K atom beam. Subsequent studies of K + Br2 resulted in the discovery that the hot-wire surface ionization detector they were using was potentially contaminated by previous use, and had to be pre-treated to obtain reliable results. Changes to the instrumentation yielded reliable results, including the observation that the K + Br2 reaction involved a stripping reaction, in which the KBr product scattered forward from the incident K atom beam. As the research continued, it became possible to correlate the electronic structure of reactants and products with the reaction dynamics.
In 1963, Herschbach returned to Harvard University as a professor of chemistry. There he continued his work on molecular-beam reactive dynamics, working with graduate students Sanford Safron and Walter Miller on the reactions of alkali atoms with alkali halides. In 1967, Yuan T. Lee joined the lab as a postdoctoral student, and Herschbach, Lee, and graduate students Doug MacDonald and Pierre LeBreton began to construct a “supermachine” for studying collisions such as Cl + Br2 and hydrogen and halogen reactions.
His most acclaimed work, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986 with Yuan T. Lee and John C. Polanyi, was his collaboration with Yuan T. Lee on crossed molecular beam experiments. Crossing collimated beams of gas-phase reactants allows partitioning of energy among translational, rotational, and vibrational modes of the product molecules—a vital aspect of understanding reaction dynamics. For their contributions to reaction dynamics, Herschbach and Lee are considered to have helped create a new field of research in chemistry. Herschbach is a pioneer in molecular stereodynamics, measuring and theoretically interpreting the role of angular momentum and its vector properties in chemical reaction dynamics.
In the course of his life’s work in research, Herschbach has published over 400 scientific papers. Herschbach has applied his broad expertise in both the theory and practice of chemistry and physics to diverse problems in chemical physics, including theoretical work on dimensional scaling. One of his studies demonstrated that methane is in fact spontaneously formed at high pressure and high temperature environments such as those deep in the Earth’s mantle; this finding is an exciting indication of abiogenic hydrocarbon formation, meaning that the actual amount of hydrocarbons available on earth might be much larger than conventionally assumed under the assumption that all hydrocarbons are fossil fuels. His recent work also includes a collaboration with Steven Brams studying approval voting.
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