100 and 50 years ago

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    100 YEARS AGO

    Two or three months ago reports were published in the daily press of the discovery of an electrical method of giving sight to the blind. It was alleged that Mr. Stiens had succeeded in constructing an electrical apparatus which performed all the functions of the eye and was an efficient substitute for it. Like many other newspaper reports of so-called scientific discoveries, this has proved to be without sound foundation. Mr. G. H. Robertson, who is himself afflicted with blindness, describes in the Electrician the results of personal inquiries into the matter with a member of the staff of our contemporary. In spite of several visits to Mr. Stiens, no experimental proof in substantiation of the claims which were put forward on his behalf was obtained, and the conclusion arrived at is that these claims are foundless. Life is so short and crowded with so many important duties that it is impossible to investigate the many sensational statements made by irresponsible interviewers, but we are grateful to any one who will take the trouble to examine some of the rumours which are put forward in the name of science.

    From Nature 30 November 1899.

    50 YEARS AGO

    In British Astronomical Association Circular No. 312 some details are given regarding the two newly discovered satellites of Uranus and Neptune, respectively. Both were discovered by Gerard P. Kuiper during his search for new satellites with the 82-in. reflector of the McDonald Observatory, University of Texas. The new satellite of Uranus, now named Miranda, was discovered on February 16, 1948, magnitude 17, and is now known to have a period of about 33h. 56m. The motion is approximately circular and in the plane of the other four satellites. Neptune ii, for which the name Nereid has been proposed by the discoverer, was found on May 1, 1949, on plates exposed for forty minutes at the prime focus, with the mirror stopped down to sixty-six inches (f/5). Its magnitude was estimated to be 19.5, and later observations show that its period is about two years and that the plane of its orbit is within six degrees of the ecliptic. Kuiper says that, as Neptune could retain satellites nearly ten times as far away as Nereid, with periods up to about fifty years, further work is planned to cover the outer regions of the system.

    From Nature 3 December 1949.

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    100 and 50 years ago. Nature 402, 473 (1999) doi:10.1038/44979

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