August 03 – Regina and Iclea

Asteroids 285 Regina and 286 Iclea were discovered today in 1889, but not by the same person.  Regina was found by Auguste Charlois in Nice, and Iclea by Johann Palisa in Vienna.  Both are large, main belts asteroids, Iclea being about twice the diameter of Regina at 97km.  Charlois and Palisa were both prolific asteroid hunters, sweeping up 221 between them (Palisa won, with 122 to Charlois’ 99, making him the most successful visual discoverer of asteroids in history).  As has tended to happen with nineteenth century asteroid hunters, both eventually got their own rocks named after them: 1510 Charlois and 914 Palisina.  Charlois has one of the more interesting deaths among astronomers, having been murdered by his brother-in-law in 1910.

I always like to add a little about the naming of asteroids.  Today this has been a task and a half, but I have finally discovered that Iclea was named for a character in the book Uranie, by the French author and astronomer Nicolas Camille Flammarion, which was published in the year of the asteroid’s discovery.  If you’ve ever been shopping for books in France you’ll possibly be familiar with the name Flammarion; Camille’s brother Ernest was founder of the publishing house of the same name.

Cover of "Uranie" by N C Flammarion.

Cover of “Uranie” by N C Flammarion.

Regina is proving more difficult to track down.  The recently published 6th edition of the Dictionary of Minor Planet Names by Lutz D Schmadel has 285 Regina slap bang in the middle of its list of minor planets whose names have no known meaning.  I shall be looking at the previous three asteroids named by Charlois in the hope of finding a connection.  They were 282 Clorinde (possibly named after the heroine of Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso), 283 Emma (unknown) and 284 Amalia (also unknown, although the French-born Princess Amélie of Orléans just happened to become Queen of Portugal in the same year it was discovered, and in August had either just given birth to, or was carrying, depending on which source you believe, the future King Manuel II of Portugal).  I’ll let you know if I find anything about Regina.  Somebody must have known at the time, but whether they wrote it down is another matter.

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ALSO TODAY . . . .

2004  –  Launch of the NASA Messenger probe to Mercury.  NASA pulled out all the stops when they named this one.  Mercury, of course, is the messenger of the gods, so our intrepid explorer glories in the full, slightly tortured name of MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.  

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