April 09 – 66 Maja

1861  –  It’s another asteroid day today (there are rather a lot of them, you know).  Today’s is a dark main belt asteroid, 66 Maja, discovered on April 9th 1861 by Horace Parnell Tuttle, of Newfield, Maine.  Tuttle is more famous as a discoverer of comets (including 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, parent of the Leonids), and a couple of galaxies.  His brother, Charles Wesley Tuttle (I’m guessing their parents were Methodists with a name like that), was also an astronomer.

Now for the near-obligatory Greek mythology bit.  Maja is named after Maia, the mother of Hermes.  She was one of the Pleiades, seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione.  The Pleiades were sisters of the Hyades, a bunch of nymphs, of uncertain number, who appear to have moved from Greece to England in recent years.  Their specialty is the bringing of rain.

Maja and Hermes. Attic red figure amphora.

Maja and Hermes. Attic red figure amphora.

IRAS (Infrared Astronomical Satellite) observations have given us an absolute magnitude for Maja of 9.36, and a best-guestimated diameter of 71.82 km.


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