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February 24th in Astronomy and Space Science
Invention1582Pope Gregory XIII issues a papal decree that 4 October of the present year would be followed by 15 October. This was necessary because the Julian calendar, which had been in use since 8 AD, had a leap year every four years. This resulted in a year that was a few minutes too long - adding up to an entire day every 128 years. By the sixteenth century, the calendar was 10 days out of step with the seasons. The new "Gregorian" calendar would correct this by dropping 10 days, then omitting the leap day in every century year, except those divisible by 400. The Roman Catholic world followed the decree, but most Protestant nations ignored it. Great Britain stayed on the Julian calendar until 1752 when they had to drop 11 days to get in sync. Sweden decided to get rid of the excess 10 days gradually by ignoring the leap years between 1700 and 1740. However, for some unexplained reason they went ahead and had leap years in 1704 and 1708. So in 1712 they had a double leap year with 30 days in February to get them back on the Julian calendar, and then in 1753 they dropped all 11 days at once to match everyone else. The Greek Orthodox church ignored the papal decree until the early 20th century, when Greece had to drop 13 days to get in step with the Sun and the rest of world. The Gregorian calendar remains the system currently in use in most of the world today.
Unmanned Spaceflight1949On the fifth attempt, a WAC-Corporal rocket mounted atop a V-2 rocket is launched from White Sands, New Mexico. It attains a record altitude of 393 km (244 miles), becoming the first human-made object to reach outer space.
Discovery1968Discovery of the first pulsar, PSR 1919+21, is announced. British astronomers Antony Hewish and Jocelyn Bell Burnell of Cambridge University made the initial discovery while using a radio telescope to study a scintillation effect on radio sources caused by clouds of electrons in the solar wind. One of their recordings from August 6, 1967 showed a regularly pulsing source with a period of 1.337 seconds in the wrong part of the sky, away from the sun. Initially it was thought that the signal was human-made, from a spacecraft, or evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization (the object was originally designated "LGM-1", which stood for "Little Green Men").
Unmanned Spaceflight1969US launches the Mariner 6 spacecraft. It flies by Mars on 31 July 1969 passing within 3,437 km (2,136 miles) of the surface. It sends back 200 photographs and measures Mars' temperature and atmosphere.
Discovery1987Ian Shelton of the University of Toronto working at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, discovers supernova 1987A. The blue supergiant star Saduleak -69 202, in the Tarantula Nebula of the Large Magellanic cloud, had exploded 170,000 years prior, and the event was just reaching us. Neutrino bursts were observed up to 23 hours prior to the visual discovery.
Manned Spaceflight2011Final launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-133. Primary payload was the Leonardo module for the International Space Station. Leonardo had been to the ISS on seven previous flights as a cargo carrier, but was now being refurbished as the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, a 2,472 sq ft laboratory.
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