October 20 – 148780 Altjira

As you can probably tell from the large number in front of its name, 148780 Altjira was discovered a considerable time later than most of the other small and medium-sized solar system bodies in these pages (October 20th, 2001), but it gets a mention for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, Altjira is a binary system of almost equally sized partners, comprising a primary object of something approaching 180 to 200 km diameter, and a secondary only a little less wide (probably about 150km) discovered six years later.  Between them they comprise a classical Kuiper Belt object (KBO) also known as a cubewano, a name derived from the first such object discovered, (15760) 1992 QB1.  

Arrernte performing a welcoming dance for strangers, Alice Springs, 1901.
Arrernte performing a welcoming dance for strangers, Alice Springs, 1901.

The second reason I thought this particular KBO deserved a mention was because I believe it’s the only time I’ll be referring to Aboriginal Australian mythology.  Altjira is a sky god of the Aranda (or Arrernte) people of the Northern Territory, and is is credited with creating the Earth during the Dreamtime.

Altjira was discovered using the Deep Ecliptic Survey, a very successful project to find KBOs, which, between 1998 and 2005, produced the first Neptune Trojan and the first binary trans-Neptunian object (TNO), as well as dozens of centaurs and a couple of hundred classical KBOs.

1962  –  Launch of Kosmos 11 (aka DS-A1 No.1) by the Soviet Union, using a Vostok 2 rocket, on October 20th, 1962, from the Mayak Launch Complex. The purpose of the “DS” missions was to test various hardware, primarily concerned with the development of anti-ballistic missile defence systems. The “DS” in the name stands for Dnepropetrovsk Sputnik. Dnipropetrovsk is the third largest city in Ukraine. Kosmos 11 managed to stay in orbit until May 18th, 1963.