While Washingtonians were welcoming the new year in blissful ignorance, an observatory on a mountaintop in Arizona photographed the first asteroid of 2014 — and it was headed straight for Earth! (Though it was still 2013 in Arizona, 2014 was already six hours old in Greenwich, England, where the official world clock is located.) Fortunately, 2014 AA, as it was immediately named, was only about the size of an automobile, and it burned up when it hit the Earth’s atmosphere about 21 hours later. No damage done.
You can see how it looked in the sky by going to jpl.nasa.gov. The NASA site also shows the potential impact sites, had the asteroid survived, on a line roughly from Panama to Saudi Arabia.
But something notable had happened: For only the second time in history, scientists had spotted an incoming asteroid before it got really near us. (The first time was in 2008, when 2008 TC3 was identified before it exploded into meteorites above Sudan.) Such sky-scanning is important, as Phil Plait points out in Slate’s “Bad Astronomy” blog, because “there are a million bigger rocks out there that cross Earth’s orbit, big enough to cause real damage should they hit us. And given enough time, they will.”
When Sister Elizabeth Kenny — she was not a nun; her title referred to her status as a senior nurse — arrived in the United States from Australia in 1940, polio was a widely feared disease; its epidemics could be neither predicted nor contained, and patients were often disabled for life. Orthodox therapies — splinting, surgery and immobilization — were ineffective. Kenny championed an alternative tack: hot packs and muscle exercises, which some patients said improved their condition. She believed strongly in on-site observation over clinical trials, but her patient-centered, hands-on approach was dismissed by the medical establishment. Kenny nonetheless gained wide support elsewhere, including the endorsement of the organization that became the March of Dimes. (A movie based on her life — with Kenny played by Rosalind Russell — came out in 1946.) In 1952, a Gallup poll found her the most admired woman in America.
After an effective polio vaccine became available in 1955, Sister Kenny was all but forgotten. But this biography offers a new look at this bold woman’s work as well as a fascinating exploration of the culture of medicine and the nature of healing.