Key historical physics events that happened in February.


1 February 

  • 2003 Space Shuttle Colombia disintegrates while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere
  • 1905 Birth of Emilio G Segrè, who discovered the antiproton along with Owen Chamberlain – the two were awarded the 1959 Nobel Prize in recognition of the discovery

4 February 

  • 1936 A radioactive element, radium, is made synthetically for the first time
  • 1967 The unmanned Lunar Orbiter 3 lifts off on a mission that included identifying landing sites for the Apollo programme
  • 1906 Birth of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930
  • 1875 Birth of Ludwig Prandtl, who jointly with Hermann Glauert developed a formula comparing aerodynamical processes at different multiples of the speed of sound, allowing aircraft to attain higher subsonic speeds

5 February 

  • 1924 The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, begins broadcasting hourly time signals
  • 1915 Birth of Robert Hofstadter, winner of the 1961 Nobel Prize along with Rudolf Mössbauer for their studies of electron scattering in atomic nuclei

6 February 

  • 1695 Birth of Nicolaus II Bernoulli, known for his work on differential equations, probability and fluid dynamics
  • 1879 Birth of Carl Ramsauer, known for the discovery of the Ramsauer-Townsend effect regarding the scattering of low-energy electrons by the atoms of a noble gas
  • 1927 Birth of Gerard K O’Neill, the physicist and space activist known for his invention of the particle storage ring
  • 1930 Birth of Jun Kondo, known for the Kondo effect, describing the scattering of electrons in a metal in which there are impurities

7 February 

  • 1979 Pluto moves inside Neptune’s orbit
  • 1984 The first untethered space walk is made by astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart

8 February 

  • 1969 The Allende meteorite, the largest carbonaceous chondrite ever found on Earth, falls near the village of Allende in Chihuahua State, Mexico
  • 1700 Birth of Daniel Bernoulli, known for his work in probability, fluid mechanics and statistics and for applying maths to problems in mechanics
  • 1906 Birth of Chester Carlson, inventor of the process of xerography

9 February 

  • 1971 Apollo 14 returns to Earth after the third successful manned moon landing
  • 1975 The Soviet Union’s Soyuz 17 spacecraft returns to Earth from the Salyut 4 space station after having set a Soviet record of 29 days in space

10 February 

  • 1785 Birth of Claude-Louis Navier, the engineer after whom the Navier-Stokes equations are partly named
  • 1902 Birth of Walter Houser Brattain, who invented the transistor along with John Bardeen and William Shockley – the three were awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize for their invention

11 February 

  • 1839 Birth of Josiah Willard Gibbs, known for his work in physical chemistry and thermodynamics and for influencing Johan van der Waals and Max Planck
  • 1847 Birth of Thomas Edison, the prolific inventor whose credits include the phonograph and the lightbulb
  • 1898 Birth of Leó Szilárd, the first to conceive of the nuclear chain reaction

12 February 

  • 1961 The Venera 1 probe is launched towards Venus by the Soviet Union
  • 2001 The NEAR Shoemaker probe becomes the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid, 433 Eros
  • 1804 Birth of Heinrich Lenz, known for his eponymous law of electrodynamics – that an induced current always opposes the change causing it
  • 1918 Birth of Julian Schwinger, known for his work on quantum electrodynamics

13 February 

  • 2004 The discovery of universe’s largest known diamond, the white dwarf star BPM 37093, is announced
  • 1910 Birth of William Shockley, awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize along with John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain for their invention of the transistor

14 February 

  • 1869 Birth of Charles Thomas Rees Wilson, inventor of the cloud chamber and winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize

15 February 

  • 1564 Birth of Galileo Galilei, often referred to as the “father of modern physics” and known for his advocacy of the heliocentric model of the solar system and for discoveries made with his improved telescope, including the Galilean Moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, phases of Venus and geographical features of the moon
  • 1861 Birth of Charles Edouard Guillaume, winner of the 1920 Nobel Prize for contributions to precision measurements

17 February 

  • 1965 The Ranger 8 probe is launched on a mission to photograph the moon’s Sea of Tranquility in preparation for the Apollo landings
  • 1996 The NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft lifts off on the first mission to orbit and land on an asteroid
  • 1888 Birth of Otto Stern, known for work in quantum mechanics including the Stern-Gerlach experiment, which showed that the act of measurement affects the system being measured and from which spin quantization was discovered. Stern was awarded the 1943 Nobel Prize

18 February 

  • 1930 Pluto is discovered by Clyde Tombaugh
  • 1745 Birth of Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery and the physicist after whom the unit of electromotive force is named
  • 1838 Birth of Ernst Mach, known for his study of shock waves and for his eponymous principle relating local rotation to the large-scale distribution of matter

19 February 

  • 1878 The gramophone (or phonograph) is patented by Thomas Edison
  • 2002 The Mars Odyssey probe begins mapping the planet’s surface
  • 1986 The Mir space station is launched by the Soviet Union
  • 1473 Birth of Nicolaus Copernicus, the astronomer known for his heliocentric model of the solar system
  • 1941 Birth of David Gross, the particle physicist awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize along with Frank Wilczek and David Politzer for their discovery of asymptotic freedom – a feature of quantum chromodynamics in which interactions between particles become weak at high energy

20 February 

  • 1844 Birth of Ludwig Boltzmann, known for his contributions to statistical formulations of both mechanics and thermodynamics and, with Jožef Stefan, for the law relating the energy radiated by a blackbody to its temperature

21 February 

  • 1947 The first instant camera, the Polaroid Land, is demonstrated to a meeting of the Optical Society of America in New York City

22 February 

  • 1632 Galileo Galilei publishes his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which compares the heliocentric Copernican model of the solar system with the traditional, Ptolemaic, geocentric one
  • 1857 Birth of Heinrich Hertz, who first demonstrated the existence of electromagnetic waves and after whom the unit of frequency is named
  • 1824 Birth of Pierre Janssen, the astronomer credited with discovering helium along with Joseph Norman Lockyer
  • 1902 Birth of Fritz Strassmann, known for his work that contributed to the discovery of nuclear fission

23 February 

  • 1941 Plutonium is produced artificially for the first time
  • 1924 Birth of Allan McLeod Cormack, the physicist who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for co-inventing the CT scanner

24 February 

26 February 

  • 1935 Robert Watson-Watt carries out a demonstration that leads to the development of radar
  • 1966 The Saturn 1B rocket, a precursor of the Saturn V used for the moon landings, is launched for the first time
  • 1799 Birth of Émile Clapeyron, one of the founders of thermodynamics who came up with a more accessible explanation of Nicolas Carnot’s thermodynamic cycle

27 February 

  • 1947 Birth of Alan Guth, the theoretical physicist who came up with the inflationary model of the very early universe

28 February 

  • 1928 Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman discovers the inelastic scattering of photons, which would become known as the Raman Effect
  • 1997 A flash of gamma rays strikes the Earth for 80 seconds and was followed by an afterglow in a galaxy 8.1bn lightyears away, providing the first evidence that gamma-ray bursts occur far outside our own galaxy
  • 2007 The New Horizons space probe flies past Jupiter on its way to Pluto
  • 1930 Birth of Leon Neil Cooper, who developed a theory explaining superconductivity along with John Bardeen and John Robert Schrieffer, for which the trio were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1972
  • 1939 Birth of Daniel C Tsui, the solid-state physicist awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize for discoveries relating to the quantum Hall effect
  • 1948 Birth of Steven Chu, the 12th US Secretary of Energy and winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for cooling and trapping atoms with laser light

29 February 

  • 1940 Ernest Lawrence is awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in a ceremony moved to Berkeley, California, due to war in Europe.