Explorations: The 1957–58 International Geophysical Year
The International Geophysical Year (IGY) was undoubtedly “the greatest cooperative effort in the history of science,” as described on the cover of the book by J. Tuzo Wilson, IGY: The Year of the New Moons (New York: Knopf, 1961). The “new moons” were the world’s first artificial satellites (the moon is the earth’s natural satellite), which were launched by the Soviet Union for the ostensible purposes of the IGY but also for political and military reasons.
The AMS Weather Book uses the story of the satellites to open its discussion of weather satellites, in Chapter 6 (pages 152–153). On pages 120 and 123, in Chapter 5, the book describes the IGY as leading to today’s understanding of El Niño. The IGY is also directly responsible for the establishment of many research stations in Antarctica, including the U.S. South Pole Station, and also for beginning the first continuous weather observations from the Antarctic continent.
Sources of information on the IGY include:
- The Year of the New Moons was written by one of the IGY organizers, who traveled more than 100,000 miles to visit participating scientists at work in all parts of the earth.
- The U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Web site has a good, brief history of the IGY with links various aspects of the program.
- The NASA History Home Page has an extensive section on the IGY that focuses on its importance in the history of rockets and satellites.
- NOAA also has an extensive history of the IGY on its Web site.
- Other books written soon after the IGY include Ronald Fraser, Once Round the Sun: The Story of the International Geophysical Year, 1957–1958 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1957) and another by New York Times science writer Walter Sullivan, Assault on the Unknown: The International Geophysical Year (New York: McGraw–Hill, 1961).