September 01 – 3 Juno and 31 Euphrosyne

1804  –  Discovery of minor planet  3 Juno. 3 Juno was, believe it or not, the third asteroid to be discovered, on September 1st 1804, by Karl L Harding. It is one if the largest S-type asteroids (15 Eunoma might be slightly larger) and approximately the 10th largest overall.

In the first few years after its discovery, wild estimates about its size led Juno, along with several others of the first group of asteroids discovered, to be classed as a planet. Their classification was downgraded to asteroid as more of them were found.

Juno can be a quite bright magnitude +7.5 at opposition, just about visible in binoculars, and has an even more eccentric orbit than Pluto. The difference between Juno’s aphelion and perihelion is over 120 million miles. That’s greater than the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

Juno (photo: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Juno (photo: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Juno is, of course, named after the important Roman goddess of the same name (equivalent to the Greek Hera). Juno was the daughter of Saturn, and both sister and wife to Jupiter. She was queen if the gods, and goddess of marriage, pregnancy and childbirth. She was the mother of Mars, conceived, apparently, when she had her stomach touched with a magic flower. And if Jupiter believes that, he’ll believe anything.

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Half a century later, September 1st 1854 saw the discovery, by James Ferguson, of asteroid 31 Euphrosyne, the first asteroid to be discovered from North America. It’s a big one, possibly the fifth biggest overall; dark, C-type, with a highly inclined orbit. It also gives its name to a grouping of similar bodies.

'The Three Graces' by Canova (Euphrosyne is thought to be the one on the left).  Photo: Mak Thorpe.

‘The Three Graces’ by Canova (Euphrosyne is thought to be the one on the left). Photo: Mak Thorpe.

Euphrosyne (goddess of joy), along with Thalia (good cheer) and  Aglaea (splendour), is one of the Charites, daughters of Zeus and Euronyme.

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