31 January 1958 – James Van Allen discovers the Van Allen radiation belt

Time-lapse photo of the Atlas V launch in Florda

What are the odds, you have to wonder, that it would be James Van Allen who discovered the Van Allen Belt? How many scientists had been sticking their noses up in the atmosphere’s business before him, without stumbling upon this belt of radiation that sits shimmering around our planet like the pretty and unobtainable and slightly radioactive girl at the school dance? Sure, it’s not really that big a deal – man discovers a bunch of energetic charged particles in the Earth’s magnetosphere that happen to have the same name as him, but history is full of these coincidences.

Guess who discovered the Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC to its friends and which is possibly the coolest ever condensate)? Right. Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein. What are the odds of two scientists finding this freakishly weird form of matter which – coincidentally – has the same name as them? Well, I can’t actually tell you the odds, the maths is beyond me. But you know who could have worked it out? Right again. Bose and Einstein. It’s the kind of thing they got up to when they weren’t revolutionising physics or discovering Bose-Einstein Condensates.

Oh, and if all you’ve counted up to is three states of matter – solid, liquid, gas – then you’d better get started on a recount and add plasma and that bad-boy BEC, and also liquid crystals and superfluids and Rydberg molecules and quark-gluon plasma and Dark Matter.

It’s not just history and science either. Law is the same. Like when they found that guy, Fitzgerald, not only to chair the Fitzgerald Inquiry, but also to author the Fitzgerald Report. I suppose that’s a little less freaky. Although, knowing the Government was planning to set up the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption, there must have been a cheeky little thrill for the public servant who found an appropriate lawyer called Fitzgerald to run it – haha look who I got to run the Fitzgerald Inquiry – but sure, granted, there are a lot more lawyers named Fitzgerald than there are Condensates named Bose-Einstein or radiation belts that go by Van Allen.

Mount Rushmore’s a baffler, though. No idea who discovered that freak of geology. Have you noticed, though, how that mountain totally looks like a bunch of presidents’ faces?

File under: the right person for the job | another name for nomenclature

(Image source: National Post)

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Stories and other writing by Ben Thurley

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