Friday, February 29, 2008

February 29, relevant at all?

February 29 is the signature day of leap years. Indeed, we all know that February 29 occurs only once every 4 years, and we also know that the addition of such day is a result of an adjustment of our calendar to the revolution of our planet about the sun: As a terrestrial year takes 365 days and 6 hours, those hours are accumulated for a period of four years, at the end of which they add up to 24 hours. That is one day, which in a more familiar language is known worldwide as the 'leap day' or February 29.

Yes, all of the facts mentioned above are widely known, therefore, there is little need to write more about them, considering the plenty of specialized publications that explain very well the origins of leap years. However, there is a question that comes to my mind about February 29: As it is a day that occurs only every 4 years, what historically relevant events have happened on such date?.

It didn't take me too long to do a bit of research about it. I found in Wikipedia a very good list of historical events that have happened in February 29. Even though such article mentions several events related to the leap day, I'll just highlight the ones that appear to be more interesting to me:

  • A new course for a country (February 29, 2004): Jean Bertrand Aristide is well remembered as the first president to be elected democratically in Haiti, back in 1991. Eventually, Aristide got involved in scandals of fraudulent elections as he got elected for a second non-consecutive term in the year 2000. The discontent of a bunch of Haitians and the emergence of rebel forces in strategic points in the country finally forced Aristide to flee Haiti and resign as president on February 29, 2004, leaving Boniface Alexandre to succeed him as interim president.
  • Destruction of a city (February 29, 1960): The city of Agadir, in Morocco, lived a very sad leap day in 1960 when it experienced the strongest earthquake in the history of the country. The result was devastating: 15,000 people were killed in the incident and some other 35,000 lost their homes. It was necessary to rebuild most of the city.
  • Recognition to science in times of war (February 29, 1940): Ernest Lawrence, an American scientist, invented a device known as cyclotron, which he patented in 1934. His invention was a particle accelerator that would later acquire great importance in the field of nuclear physics. For his contributions, he was awarded with a Nobel Prize in Physics on February 29, 1940, in a ceremony performed in Berkeley, California, due to the development of World War II in Europe.
Needless to say, February 29 has special importance to some people, especially those who were born on such date, or those who remember the death of special people in the leap day. There is a very comprehensive list of births and deaths occurred on a February 29th in Wikipedia as well.

The moral of this story is that, even when February 29 occurs only once every 4 years, it is still a day in which world keeps moving, important things may happen, and is just as relevant as any other calendar day. Enjoy the day.


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