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History's Happenings for November 1

First H-Bomb Detonated By U.S.

The world's first thermonuclear -- or fusion -- weapon was detonated on November 1, 1952 by the United States. Code-named "Mike", the bomb yielded several megatons, or the equivalent of several million tons of TNT, when it exploded at the Eniwetok Proving Grounds in the South Pacific. Ominously, Russia followed suit the following August.

Called the hydrogen, or "H", bomb after its main fuel -- heavy isotopes of the lightest of all elements -- a fusion weapon relies upon those atoms to fuse with one another at immense temperatures, producing energy through the release of neutrons. The original atomic bomb, by comparison, releases energy through the fission of very heavy atoms, typically enriched uranium or plutonium.

The fusion concept was not a late discovery -- it was known even when the fission bomb was under development. But in order to produce the millions of degrees required to initiate the fusion reaction, a fission bomb is required for a trigger. And, of course, the A-bomb became a reality in 1945.

Thermonuclear weapons are relatively clean, producing fallout only to the extent that they contain fission triggers, or a uranium shell designed produce a secondary fission reaction for added yield. A "pure" H-bomb, containing only the trigger, would derive about 95% of its explosive power from clean fusion, irradiating only a small area around the blast in the spray of neutrons. The relatively recent Neutron, or "N", bomb takes this a step further with a cleaner trigger, and enhanced neutron irradiation designed to kill more effectively within a limited area, without the further-reaching effects.

See how easily we can talk about Armageddon when we get technical?

One of the evasive -- if not highly advertised -- goals of science today is the discovery of so-called "cold fusion", the ability to initiate and maintain a controlled fusion reaction without the millions of degrees. The potential energy output from the fusion of heavy hydrogen, per pound of fuel, is about three times that of uranium, and the main product of reaction is ordinary helium rather than the radioactive soup of heavy metals produced by fission. All of today's power-producing nuclear reactors operate on the fission principle.

The discovery of "cold" fusion, as well as a more economical way to contain a controlled fusion reaction, could lead to almost limitless, clean, inexpensive and non-polluting energy. A technology which, so far, has produced only mutually assured destruction, could be used instead to serve mankind. One wonders if it has a high enough priority to overcome opposed interests.

Meanwhile let's try not to vaporize ourselves.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling Unveiled

(Stay tuned for a write-up on this event.
On the other hand, if you'd like to try writing
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Stamp Act Goes Into Effect

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one  ... send it in! )

McClellan Takes Over Union Forces

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Birth of the U.S. Weather Bureau

America's first modern weather forecasting service was created as a part of the Army Signal Corps on November 1, 1870. It reported its observations to Washington from around the country over leased commercial telegraph lines and, after they had been built, military lines.

Under the careful tutelage of Chief Signal Officer Brigadier General Albert Myer, the army's service gained international acclaim -- another example, typical of the times, of the military pushing the scientific envelope.

However, the period between the Civil and Spanish-American Wars were lean, even mean, times for the Army. By 1891, the War Department had decided that the Army weather service cost too much and had too much of a civilian character to be under its umbrella. So Congress transferred it to the Department of Agriculture, where it received its proper name of U.S. Weather Bureau. Its loss marked a general decline in the military's interest in furthering science.

Under the Department of Agriculture, the Weather Bureau became an important aid to the agricultural community, a service it continues to provide today by predicting frosts and general growing trends, and helping to guide insect control programs. In 1940, the Bureau was transferred to the Commerce Department and, in 1970, was made a part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), taking on its current name of National Weather Service.

The NWS continues to gather data from over 1,000 land-based stations in the U.S., and 2,000 participating ships at sea. It also employs automatic data-gathering means in remote environments. Near-term (1-2 day) forecasts are generated three times daily, and longer range forecasts less often. Special services include hurricane, storm and drought support, and river level observations at about 8,000 stations, enabling the NWS to predict flooding with surprising accuracy.

Puerto Rican Nationalists Attempt Truman Assassination

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All Saints Day

All Saints Day was founded in the seventh century, in honor of God and all His Saints, to offset earlier pagan celebrations that occurred at roughly the same time. Pope Gregory IV officially sanctioned it in 835 AD.

It's no accident that it occurs on November 1st, the day after Halloween. Halloween -- though its modern equivalent is merely an opportunity for a colorful, fattening and unusual autumn celebration -- has at its origins the ancient pagan festival of the dead spirits, similar to that practiced by the Druids in the British Isles. The customs were far from dead in the seventh century.

So in its place, Christians substituted All Hallows, or All Saints Day, to celebrate the positive -- and the evening before, mutating from the old but refusing to die -- became All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe'en.

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