May 16 – Discovery of Asteroid 87 Sylvia

Asteroid 87 Sylvia was discovered on May 16th 1866 by N R Pogson, author of the Madras Catalogue of stars, at Madras Observatory.

Sylvia is a large asteroid in the Cybele group of bodies in the outer core of the main belt.  She is an x-type asteroid, with “x” in this case doing its usual job of signifying the uncertainty surrounding their composition.

Sylvia is named after Rhea Silvia, descendant of Aeneas, daughter of Numitor, and, in an unusual career move for a Vestal Virgin, mother of Romulus and Remus, the supposed founders of Rome who as babies were set adrift on the river Tiber by a servant who had been ordered to kill them, later to be found and suckled by a wolf who had lost her cubs.

Rhea Silvia, torso from the amphitheatre at Cartagena, Spain.
Rhea Silvia, torso from the amphitheatre at Cartagena, Spain.

Sylvia has two satellites. They were given the fairly obvious names of Romulus (discovered in 2001) and Remus (2004).


1888  –  Discovery of asteroid 278 Paulina by Johann Palisa. Nobody is quite sure who Paulina, Paul or Paula was.


2011 saw the launch of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 02 (AMS-02) via shuttle Endeavour, to be mounted onboard the International Space Station.  AMS-02′s raison d’etre is to measure cosmic rays as part of the ongoing search for dark matter.  It seems to be working well so far, making 1,000 recordings a second, and passing the 90 billion mark in 2016.

AMS-02 Patch (NASA/JSC).

If particle physics is your thing, the AMS-02 website is probably where you’ll want to go next.


Last updated: May 2019.

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