This Day in History

February 20


1154      priest Wulfric of Haselbury dies in Somerset, England, age around 74   865
1491      "Comet of 1491" comes 873,784 miles (1,406,219 km) away from Earth, the closest comet ever recorded   528
1524      Tecún Umán, last ruler of the Maya, is killed in battle with Spanish Conquistadors   495
1547      coronation of Edward VI, King of England, in Westminister Abbey at age 9—will reign 6 years   472
1626      English composer John Dowland dies, age approximately 63   393
1685      French colonists led by Robert Cavelier de La Salle land at Matagorda Bay, now in Texas, and establish Fort Saint Louis   334
1762      German astronomer Tobias Mayer dies in Göttingen, age 39   257
1792      George Washington signs the Postal Service Act—U.S. Post Office Department is established   227
1810      Tirolean patriot and leader in the rebellion against the French Andreas Hofer is executed by Napolean's forces   209
1816      Gioachino Rossini's opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia premieres at the Teatro Argentina in Rome   203
1823      British brig Jane commanded by James Weddell reaches 74° 15' S, the southernmost point any ship had previously reached   196
1824      William Buckland formally announces Megalosaurus in a meeting of the Geological Society of London—first dinosaur so described   195
1835      earthquake destroys Concepción, Chile   184
1844      Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, physicist, born   175
1864      Battle of Olustee in northeast Florida is a Confederate victory of over an invading Union force—largest Civil War battle in Florida   155
1872      Metropolitan Museum of Art opens in New York City—largest art museum in the U.S.   147
1877      première performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow   142
1895      abolitionist Frederick Douglass dies, age around 77   124
1902      American photographer Ansel Easton Adams is born in San Francisco   117
1913      first survey peg marking the new capital of Australia is driven by politician King O'Malley, later named Canberra   106
1920      American explorer Robert Edwin Peary dies, age 63   99
1926      first Berlin International Green Week begins   93
1935      Caroline Mikkelsen becomes the first woman to set foot on Antarctica   84
1942      Edward Henry "Butch" O'Hare shoots down five attacking bombers—U.S. Navy's first ace and Medal of Honor winner in World War II   77
1943      Parícutin cinder-cone volcano begins as a fissure in a cornfield in the Mexican state of Michoacán   76
1962      Project Mercury:  John Glenn becomes first American to orbit Earth in Friendship 7   57
1965      Ranger 8 impacts the moon after a successful mission of photographing the surface as it approached   54
1972      German-American physicist and Nobel laureate (1963) Maria Goeppert-Mayer dies in San Diego, age 65   47
1984      Italian mathematician and space engineer Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo dies, age 63   35
1993      Italian industrialist and founder of Automobili Lamborghini, Ferruccio Elio Arturo Lamborghini dies, age 76   26
1998      Nagano, Japan, Winter Olympics—American figure skater Tara Lipinski becomes the youngest gold-medalist at 15 years, 8 months, 10 days   21
1999      American film critic and journalist for the Chicago Tribune Eugene Kal "Gene" Siskel dies in Evanston, Illinois, age 53   20
2001      pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher, and writer Donella H. "Dana" Meadows dies, age 59   18
2001      American radio, film, and television actress Rosemary DeCamp dies in Newport Beach, California, age 90   18
2002      fire starts in a passenger train passing through Al Ayyat, Egypt and spreads through 7 of 11 cars killing estimated 1000   17
2003      French writer, philosopher, and literary theorist Maurice Blanchot dies, age 95   16
2003      concert pyrotechnics set The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island aflame—100 die and 230 others injured   16
2005      American actress Sandra Dee (born Alexandra Zuck) dies in Thousand Oaks, California, age 62   14
2006      American sportscaster, longtime "voice" of the Boston Red Sox, Curtis "Curt" Edward Gowdy dies in Palm Beach, Florida, age 86   13
2010      extreme weather causes floods and mudslides on Portugal's Madeira Island—42 die and 100 others injured   9
2011      Trevor Bayne wins the Daytona 500 NASCAR race the day after his 20th birthday—youngest winner in history   8
2013      Japanese musician and video game designer Kenji Eno dies inTokyo, age 42   6
2013      Chief Scientist for astrobiology at the Johnson Space Center David Stewart McKay dies, age 76   6
2017      American physicist and electrical engineer Mildred Dresselhaus, "queen of carbon science", dies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, age 86   2
2017      in Dallas Christopher Duntsch sentenced to life in prison—first doctor in U.S. sentenced to prison for botched surgery   2

Dates are always somewhat ambiguous, the exact date depends on whether local time is used (and local time where) or Universal Time—for events on the surface of the Earth, local time is probably best but for an event that spans across the planet, it is not clear which local time to use!. For events in space it is more ambiguous. Further for dates after the original adoption of the Gregorian calendar but before it became accepted in different countries, the date given may be a Julian date or a Gregorian date depending upon where the event occurred. And, even the year may be different since the first of the year has not always been January 1 in all countries! The attempt is to use a date that is the one that is typically given.

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