View our new "On this day" sections for October.


1 October 

  • 1904 Birth of Otto Robert Frisch, the Austrian-British physicist who was the first to calculate the critical mass of uranium required for an atomic bomb, showing that they can be small enough to be delivered by air, and working out a mechanism for their detonation

  • 1910 Birth of José Enrique Moyal, who established the “phase space” formulation of quantum mechanics, which allows easier comparison with classical statistical mechanics

2 October 

  • 1925 The first working TV is tested by John Logie Baird

3 October 

  • 1942 A V2 rocket launched from Peenemünde, Germany, becomes the first man-made object to reach space

4 October 

  • 1957 Sputnik I is launched and becomes the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth

  • 2004 SpaceShipOne becomes the first privately built spacecraft to reach space
  • 1892 Birth of Hermann Glauert, who jointly with Ludwig Prandtl developed a formula comparing aerodynamical processes at different multiples of the speed of sound, allowing aircraft to attain higher subsonic speeds
  • 1916 Birth of Vitaly Ginzburg, the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb and joint winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize, with Alexei Alexeevich Abrikosov and Anthony James Leggett for their contributions to the understanding of superconductors and superfluids

5 October 

  • 1903 Birth of M King Hubbert, the geophysicist who first predicted an eventual peak in global oil production

6 October 

  • 1903 Birth of Ernest Walton, the physicist who first split the atom along with John Cockcroft, with whom he shared the 1951 Nobel Prize

  • 1931 Birth of Riccardo Giacconi, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for his contributions to x-ray astronomy

7 October 

  • 1959 Luna 3 takes the first photographs of the far side of the moon

  • 1885 Birth of Niels Bohr, who made numerous contributions to nuclear physics and quantum mechanics and received the Nobel Prize in 1922

8 October 

  • 1829 George Stephenson’s train, The Rocket, wins the “Rainhill Trials” – the competition to decide which engine would pull trains on the Liverpool-Manchester railway

9 October 

  • 1604 A supernova occurring around 20 000 lightyears away in the constellation of Ophiucus becomes visible from Earth, the last observed one that is known to have been within our galaxy

  • 1704 Birth of Johann Andreas Segner, constructor of the first water jet – a turbine powered by water, the principle of which is still used in irrigation sprinklers
  • 1879 Birth of Max von Laue, who made contributions to the fields of quantum mechanics, relativity and superconductivity and was awarded the 1914 Nobel Prize for his discovery of x-ray diffraction

10 October 

  • 1957 The core of the nuclear reactor at Windscale, Cumbria, catches fire, causing the world’s first major nuclear accident

  • 1967 The Outer Space Treaty comes into force, forming the basis of international law relating to the exploration and use of space

11 October 

  • 1958 Pioneer 1 is the first spacecraft launched by NASA, but it falls back to Earth and burns up

  • 1968 Apollo 7, the first manned mission of the Apollo programme, is launched
  • 1758 Birth of Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olber, who first described the paradox now named for him, of the darkness of the sky conflicting with the assumption of an infinite, static universe

12 October 

  • 1964 Voskhod 1 becomes the first spacecraft with a crew of more than one person

13 October 

  • 1773 Astronomer Charles Messier discovers the Whirlpool Galaxy, 31 m lightyears away in the constellation Canes Venatici and now one of the best-known galaxies in the sky

14 October 

  • 1947 A Bell-X1 experimental aircraft flown by Chuck Yeager becomes the first to fly faster than the speed of sound in level flight

  • 1801 Birth of Joseph Plateau, the Belgian physicist who was the first to use the illusion of moving images to create a crude animation device, the phenakistoscope, a precursor to the zoetrope and ultimately contributing to the development of cinema
  • 1914 Birth of Raymond Davis Jr, the winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for “pioneering contributions to astrophysics”, including his detection of cosmic neutrinos

15 October 

  • 1783 The first manned flight of a hot-air balloon, the earliest flight technology

  • 1608 Birth of Evangelista Torricelli, inventor of the barometer
  • 1829 Birth of Asaph Hall, the astronomer who discovered the moons of Mars
  • 1909 Birth of Jesse Greenstein, who, along with Maarten Schmidt, was the first to recognise that quasars are very small and very far away and as bright as an entire galaxy

16 October 

  • 1995 The Skye bridge is opened, connecting the island with the Scottish mainland

17 October 

  • 1604 Johannes Kepler begins observing a supernova that was first seen eight days earlier, later writing a book on the subject, De Stella nova in pede Serpentarii (‘On the new star in Ophiucus’s foot”)

  • 1888 Thomas Edison patents an invention he calls the ‘optical phonograph’ – effectively the first film camera – claiming it will “do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear”
  • 1956 The UK’s first commercial nuclear power station opens at Sellafield, Cumbria
  • 1919 Birth of Isaak Markovich Khalatnikov, who jointly developed the Belinsky-Khalatnikov-Lifshitz model of the very early universe in general relativity

18 October 

  • 1954 Texas Instruments announces its development of the transistor radio

  • 1967 Venera 4 becomes the first spacecraft to measure the atmosphere of another planet when it reaches Venus

19 October 

  • 1910 Birth of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who made important contributions to general relativity and to stellar evolution, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983

20 October 

  • 1891 Birth of James Chadwick, awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize for his discovery of the neutron

21 October 

  • 1879 Thomas Edison tests the first practical incandescent lightbulb

  • 1957 Birth of Wolfgang Ketterle, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize, along with Eric Allin Cornell and Carl Wieman, for their production of a Bose-Einstein condensate

22 October 

  • 1770 Birth of Thomas Johann Seebeck, discoverer of the thermoelectric effect

  • 1881 Birth of Clinton Davisson, joint winner of the 1937 Nobel Prize along with George Paget Thomson for their independent discoveries of electron diffraction
  • 1881 Birth of Karl Bernhard Zoeppritz, the geophysicist who first developed equations that describe how seismic waves behave when travelling between different layers of Earth and are useful in locating underground reservoirs

23 October 

  • 1873 Birth of William D Coolidge, known for his contributions to electric lighting and radiology

  • 1905 Birth of Felix Bloch, winner of the 1952 Nobel Prize along with Edward Mills Purcell for work on nuclear magnetic resonance
  • 1908 Birth of Ilya Frank, winner of the 1958 Nobel Prize jointly with Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov and Igor Y Tamm for the discovery of Cherenkov radiation

24 October 

  • 1998 Launch of NASA’s Deep Space 1 probe, dedicated to testing new experimental technologies

  • 1804 Birth of Wilhelm Eduard Weber, who, with Carl Friedrich Gauss, invented the first electromagnetic telegraph
  • 1932 Birth of Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize “for discovering that methods developed for studying order phenomena in simple systems can be generalised to more complex forms of matter, in particular to liquid crystals and polymers.”

25 October 

  • 1910 Birth of William Higinbotham, the physicist credited with creating one of the first computer games

26 October 

  • 1936 The first electricity generator at the Hoover Dam begins operating

27 October 

  • 1994 Discovery of a brown dwarf orbiting the star Gliese 229, the first confirmed discovery of a body of substellar mass orbiting another star, paving the way for research on exoplanets

28 October 

29 October 

30 October 

  • 1925 The UK’s first TV transmitter is created by John Logie Baird

  • 1909 Birth of Homi J Bhabha, considered to be the father of India’s nuclear programme and also notable for his studies of cosmic rays and electron-positron scattering
  • 1941 Birth of Theodor W Hänsch, winner of a quarter of the 2005 Nobel Prize for his work on laser spectroscopy

31 October 

  • 2000 A Soyuz rocket is launched, taking the first resident crew to the International Space Station, which has been continuously inhabited ever since

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