Today In Science History – September 20 – Luna 16 1

Luna 16
Luna 16 Moon lander. Credit: NASA

September 20 is the anniversary of the landing of Luna 16. Luna 16 was the Russian moon lander that became the first robot to land on another body and return samples to Earth.

Luna 16 was part of the Soviet space program’s efforts to reach the Moon. Previous Luna spacecraft made several firsts in space exploration. Luna 2 was the first man-made object to reach the surface of the Moon after the failure of Luna 1. Luna 16 followed this tradition by successfully completing Luna 15’s mission. Luna 15 was destroyed when it crashed into the surface of the Moon while the Apollo 11 astronauts were performing their historic Moon mission.

Luna 16 successfully landed on the Moon’s surface a year later. It began sending good, strong television signals back to Earth. These images were used to monitor Luna 16’s drilling arm as it drilled 35 centimeters into the Moon’s crust. The drill arm was raised to deposit the drilled soil sample to the collection chamber at the top of the lander. The top half of Luna 16 lifted off the next morning carrying 101 grams of lunar soil.

Luna 16 parachuted down to Earth on September 24.

Notable Science Events for September 20

1970 – Luna 16 lands on the Moon.

1960 – Ernest Goodpasture died.

Ernest Goodpasture
Ernest Goodpasture (1886 – 1960)
US Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

Goodpasture was an American physician and pathologist who developed a method of culturing viruses in chicken embryos and fertilized chicken eggs. Previously, viruses could only be grown in living tissues and susceptible to contamination by bacteria. With the egg method, the virus could be grown easily and inexpensively. This lead to the development of vaccines for small pox, yellow fever, typhus and chicken pox.

1873 – Giovanni Battista Donati died.

Giovanni Battista Donati
Giovanni Battista Donati (1826 – 1873)

Donati was an Italian astronomer who discovered several comets. He also took the first spectroscopic reading of a comet. He identified three main spectral lines that were later attributed to the presence of carbon. He also noticed the lines became more pronounced as the comet approached the Sun and heated up. He determined at least part of a comet was gaseous.

1848 – American Association for the Advancement of Science is formed.

AAAS logo

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is a non-profit organization that promotes scientific understanding, freedoms, responsibility, and education. This group publishes the weekly scientific journal Science. The Association of American Geologists and Naturalists was reformed into a scientific body that could react to the increasing rate of scientific progress.

1842 – James Dewar was born.

James Dewar
James Dewar (1842 – 1923)

Dewer was a Scottish physicist and chemist who is best known for the invention of the Dewer flask. Dewer flasks are double walled and contain a vacuum between the walls to maintain the temperature of the liquid in the flask. They would eventually be marketed under the trade name ‘thermos’.

He made several advances in the study of low temperatures and created a device to produce liquid oxygen.

1815 – Nicolas Desmarest died.

Nicolas Desmarest
Nicolas Desmarest (1725 – 1815)

Desmarest was a French geologist who discovered basalt was formed from volcanic rock and disproved the prevalent Neptunist theory of the origin of rocks. The Neptunist theory had all rocks originally came from sedimentary deposits from ancient oceans. Desmarest found a large basalt deposit in central France that followed lava flows from extinct volcanoes.

1796 – Juan José D’Elhuyar died.

Juan Jose de Elhuyar
Juan José D’Elhuyar (1754 – 1976)

Juan José D’Elhuyar was a Spanish mineralogist who, together with his brother Faustus D’Elhuyar, isolated the element tungsten from wolfram ore. Carl Scheele had discovered tungsten two years earlier in the form of tungstic acid but did not separate the tungsten metal from the acid. The D’Elhuyar brothers reduced the acid through charcoal and filtered out the metal.