January 09 – Asteroid 464 Megaira (1901)

Asteroid 464 Megaira (originally designated as 1901 FV) was discovered on January 9th 1901 by Max Wolf (1863-1932), a pioneer of astrophotography, and a man with an enormous 248 asteroid discoveries to his name. It is approximately 80 km in diameter, and was the first minor planet to be discovered in 1901. Only 17 asteroids were discovered in total in 1901, illustrating how much harder it was back then. By 1921 the annual haul had just managed crawled up to 27, but in the 2000’s asteroids are being discovered at rates of several thousand a year.

The name of today’s rock comes from the Greek Megaera, one of the three Eumenides (“Furies”), who were born out of the blood of Uranus when Cronos castrated him. Her name means “the jealous one”.

The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau - 1862
The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau – 1862

Her sisters had similarly jolly names: Tisiphone (“Avenging Murder”) and Alecto (“Unceasing Anger”). It was considered unlucky to mention their name in Greek society, so they often went by ironic pseudonyms (Euripides refers to them as the “Kindly Ones”).

Wolf was on a roll this month and went on to name the next two asteroids he discovered after the remaining Eumenides (465 Alekto, discovered on Jan 13th 1901, and 466 Tisiphone, 4 days later).