August 06 – Discovery of Asteroid 89 Julia (1866)

French astronomer Édouard Jean-Marie Stephan discovered two asteroids in under three months in 1866, but they were his only two.  I wonder why?  Most of the asteroid hunters I’ve mentioned in previous posts have been enthusiastic bordering on obsessive, but not Stephan (he lived another fifty-odd years afterwards so sudden death wasn’t the excuse).   It’s quite likely that the reason was that Stephan wasn’t much interested in small rocks whizzing round the Sun.  He spent most of his later career studying stars, nebulae and galaxies (he has a compact group of galaxies named after him – Stephan’s Quintet).

91 Aegina was his second, final asteroid, and 89 Julia was the first, discovered this day in 1866.  Julia is a large main-belt asteroid, shown by IRAS observations to be about 150km across, with an absolute magnitude of 6.6.

It is generally thought that the inspiration for the name of asteroid 89 was Saint Julia of Corsica, martyred around 439.  This is quite possible, as Marseilles (where Stephan was working at the time) isn’t a million miles from Corsica.  I also see that Saint Julia was declared a patroness of Corsica on August 5th 1809, so the date might still have been significant a few decades later in what was a rather religious country at the time.  August 5th 1866 had been a Sunday, and I like to think that a sermon on the life of saint Julia might have been fresh in the astronomer’s mind the following day.  Probably not; but you never know.

Stephan's Quintet - More Interesting to Look at than Asteroid 89 Julia
Stephan’s Quintet – More Interesting to Look at than Asteroid 89 Julia


ALSO TODAY . . . .

1871  –  Asteroid 115 Thyra was discovered by J C Watson, and named after the wife of the first historically recognised King of Denmark.