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May 24th in Astronomy and Space Science
Death1543Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus dies. He was the first to present convincing arguments that the Earth orbited the Sun and not the other way around. Ptolemaic theory held that the Moon and Sun orbited the motionless Earth, and that Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were situated beyond the Sun (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto had not yet been discovered). The problem was with Venus and Mercury. Ptolemy placed them closest to the Sun while other astronomers held that they were beyond the Sun. Copernicus realized that neither situation explained their motions correctly, and the only thing that did was if the Sun were motionless with all the planets, including the Earth orbiting it. This was considered heresy as it placed the imperfect and changeable Earth amongst the perfect and unchanging heavens. For this reason, publication of the theory was delayed 36 years until the year of his death.
Manned Spaceflight1962US astronaut Scott Carpenter becomes the second American to orbit the Earth. The Nestle company prepares raisin-almond cereal bars they called "bone-bones" for Carpenter to eat - today we call them granola bars. The Mercury capsule's re-entry rockets fail to fire on time and the 3-second delay causes Carpenter to overshoot his landing spot by 400 km (250 miles). He is located 41 minutes later after signaling a passing boat with a hand mirror.
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