International Geophysical Year

International Geophysical Year

The International Geophysical Year or IGY was an international scientific effort that lasted from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958.

The IGY encompassed eleven Earth sciences: aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determinations (precision mapping), meteorology, oceanography, seismology and solar activity.

Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union launched artificial satellites for this event; the Soviet Union's "Sputnik 1" of October 1957 was the first successful artificial satellite. Other significant achievements of the IGY included the discovery of the Van Allen Belts and the discovery of mid-ocean submarine ridges, an important confirmation of plate tectonics. [ [ ESRL Global Monitoring Division ] ]


International Polar Years were held in 1882–1883 and 1932–1933. Another International Polar Year is in progress from 2007–2009.

In March 1950, at a gathering of eight or ten top scientists (including Lloyd Berkner, S. Fred Singer, and Harry Vestine) in James Van Allen's living room, someone suggested that with the development of new tools such as rockets, radar and computers, the time was ripe for a worldwide geophysical year.

From the March 1950 meeting, Lloyd Berkner and other participants proposed to the International Council of Scientific Unions that an International Geophysical Year (IGY) be planned for 1957—58—during the maximum solar activity. [ [ The International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958 ] ]

April 11, 1957, the U.S. Navy tests a satellite to an altitude of 126 mi. [E. Emme, ed., "Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1915–1960", p. 85.]

October 4, 1957, the USSR launches Sputnik 1.

November 8, 1957, U.S. Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy instructs the U.S. Army to use a modified Jupiter-C rocket to launch a satellite as part of the IGY.Citation
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January 31, 1958, the U.S. launches Explorer 1.

July 29, 1958, the U.S. creates NASA.


IGY triggered an eighteen-month year of Antarctic science. The International Council of Scientific Unions, a parent body, broadened the proposals from polar studies to geophysical research. More than 70 existing national scientific organizations then formed IGY committees, and participated in the cooperative effort.

Halley Research Station was founded in 1956, for IGY, by an expedition from the Royal Society. The bay where the expedition set up their base was named Halley Bay, after the astronomer Edmond Halley.

IGY representations in popular culture

Donald Fagen album

IGY is featured in a song of the same name, titled in full as "I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year)", on Donald Fagen's 1982 album, "The Nightfly." In 1993, this same song was recorded by Howard Jones and released on his "Best Of" album. The song also contains a reference to Spandex, which is an anachronism, since the fiber was first invented in 1959.

Walt Kelly's "Pogo"

The International Geophysical Year is featured prominently during 1957–1958 run of "Pogo" comic strips by Walt Kelly. The characters in the strip refer to the scientific initiative as the "G.O. Fizzickle Year." During this run, the characters try to make their own contributions to scientific endeavours, such as putting a flea on the moon. A subsequent compilation of the strips was published by "Simon & Schuster SC" in 1958 as "G.O. Fizzickle Pogo" and later "Pogo's Will Be That Was" in 1979.

Punch cartoon

The IGY was featured in a cartoon by Russell Brockbank in "Punch magazine" in November 1956. It shows the three main superpowers Great Britain, USA and USSR at the South Pole, each with a gathering of penguins who they are trying to educate with "culture". The penguins in the British camp are being bored with Francis Bacon; in the American camp they are happily playing baseball, whilst the Russian camp resembles a gulag, with barbed-wire fences and the penguins are made to march and perform military maneuvers.

ee also

*List of Antarctica expeditions
*International Biological Program
*Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station
*International Year of Planet Earth

References & Footnotes

* [ University of Saskatchewan Archives]
* [ History of ionosondes, at the U.K.'s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory]
* [ History of arctic exploration]
* [ James Van Allen, From High School to the Beginning of the Space Era: A Biographical Sketch] by George Ludwig

External links

* [ Documents regarding the International Geophysical Year, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library]

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