July 23 – Discovery of Asteroid 114 Kassandra (1871)

Asteroid 114 Kassandra was discovered by prolific asteroid hunter Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters on July 23rd 1871.  It is in the main belt, is about 100km in diameter, and is of spectral type “T”.  We don’t get many T-types in these pages, mainly because you don’t get many T-types anywhere.  They tend to orbit in the inner main belt, and are thought to be related to P-types, but as we don’t have any convenient examples to study, very little is known about them.

Woodcut showing Cassandra predicting the fall of Troy and her own death.
Woodcut showing Cassandra predicting the fall of Troy and her own death.

Kassandra is named after the tragic Greek prophetess of the same name but with a “C”, cursed by her spurned would-be lover Apollo to be able to foretell the future but never be believed.

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ALSO TODAY . . . .

1995  –  Today in 1995 saw the discovery of Comet Hale-Bopp by Alan Hale (New Mexico) and Thomas Bopping (Arizona). “C/1995 01” was one of the brightest comets of the 20th century, visible with the naked eye for over eighteen months around its perihelion at April 1st 1997. It became the most observed comet in history, largely due to the increase in Internet availability happening at the time, and NASA’s Hale-Bopp Web page was their first to receive over a million hits in one day. How much scrutiny Hale-Bopp receives next time around is anyone’s guess. Perihelion is expected in around 4385 AD, by which time I expect Richard Branson’s descendants to be offering cut-price round trips through the tail (with a free night on Mars if you book early).

1999  –  Launch of the CHANDRA spacecraft.

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July 22 – Birth of Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784)

Today is the anniversary of the birth, in 1784 of Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, the German astronomer who was the first to use parallax to find the distance to a star.  The star in question was 61 Cygni, which Bessel decided was 10.3 light years away (the current measurement is 11.4 ly).  One can only marvel at Bessel’s ability, in 1838, to measure the unbelievably small angles involved.  The feat was somewhere akin to measuring the differences in direction of the left and right edges of a Brussells sprout located about three miles away.

Portrait of Bessel by the Danish artist C A Jensen
Portrait of Bessel by the Danish artist C A Jensen

Asteroid 30 Urania was discovered on July 22nd 1854 by John Russell Hind.  It is a main belt S-type asteroid of about 100km diameter at its widest point.

Urania
Urania

Urania is the Greek muse of astronomy, a daughter of Zeus, and great-granddaughter of Uranus.  She is usually represented wearing a cloak embroidered with stars.  The allegorical representation above is by the French portrait painter Jean Louis Tocqué.


July 21 – Small Step; Big day

July 21st 1969 is going to take some beating as far as big days go.  I’ve been thinking about it, and it’s just really obvious that nobody has ever done anything even remotely as impressive as walking on the Moon.  The more one thinks about it, the less likely it seems that it was even possible with 1960′s technology (don’t forget that the processors used in the guidance system were smaller than the ones available in home computers just a decade later, and my android phone is obviously from a different planet).

Pretty big shoes to fill (image credit: NASA)
Pretty big shoes to fill (image credit: NASA)

Maybe something to top it will come along eventually (the first gay pope to visit  Mars, maybe?) but in the meantime, here are a couple of other events being commemorated and largely forgotten in the enormous shadow thrown by Neil Armstrong’s boots.


1914  –  Discovery of Jupiter’s moon Sinope by S B Nicholsonwhile he was working as a summer assistant at Lick Observatory.  The ninth satellite of Jupiter to be spotted, Sinope was, as I say, discovered in 1914, but didn’t receive a proper name until 1975; until then it was simply “Jupiter IX”.  It was named, along with eight other moons, “on the recommendation of the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature” of the IAC.  Nicholson’s discovery was slightly serendipitous, as he was actually photographing “Jupiter VIII” at the time with the 36-inch British-built Crossley Reflector, a device the observatory had bought from it’s previous owner when it became obvious that the skies above Halifax, England, were a waste of a large telescope.


1998  –  RIP Alan Shepard.  Shepard (another of the Mercury Seven) was, as commander of Apollo 14, the fifth man on the Moon, and the first to play golf there.  It’s perhaps just as well that the Americans conquered the Moon.  I doubt the effect would have been quite the same when the first Briton on the surface got his dartboard out.


1961  – Launch of MR-1, the first unmanned spacecraft of the Mercury project.  A spectacular failure, it managed to attain an altitude of four inches in a flight lasting 2 seconds.


2006  –  Discovery of Actaea, the satellite of trans-Neptunian object  120347 Salacia.


July 20 – Sea of Activity (1969)

Today was a very big day in 1969, as it was the day on which, at 17 minutes past 8 in the evening, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (but not Michael Collins) landed their lunar module in the Sea of Tranquility, becoming the first humans in a short line of white, American males to land on the surface of the Moon.

Apollo 11 Crew (image credit: NASA)
Apollo 11 Crew (image credit: NASA)

There has been a great deal written and said about this event, and even more than usual in this 50th anniversary year, with which I won’t attempt to compete. I will just say that although the intrepid moon men brought back 21.5 kg of lunar material, the main impact of their visit from the Moon’s perspective was to leave behind several tonnes of extremely expensive scrap metal.

Tranquility from the window of the Lunar Module (image credit: NASA)
Tranquility from the window of the Lunar Module (image credit: NASA)

The Sea of  Tranquility (Mare Tranquillitatis), once thought to be an ocean on the Moon, is a large basalt basin, probably produced by a lava flow following the impact of something quite large, at the time of the Pre-Nectarian epoch, meaning it was formed before the Mare Nectaris.  The Pre-Nectarian doesn’t really have an equivalent epoch on Earth, because any rocks of a similar age down here would long ago have been sucked back below the surface to be recycled.

Looking towards home from Apollo 11 landing site (image credit: NASA)
Looking towards home from Apollo 11 landing site (image credit: NASA)

 

 

July 19 – Discovery of Asteroid 226 Weringia (1882)

Main belt asteroid 226 Weringia was discovered on July 19, 1882 by the great Austrian asteroid hunter, Johann Palisa.  In under 50 years Palisa identified 122 asteroids, Weringia being one of nine he found in 1882.

Weringia is a fairly bright body of 34 km diameter, but little more is known of it, except that photometric observations from 2008 made by Kingsgrove Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, give it a rotation period (day) of 11.4 hours (Minor Planet Bulletin, Vol. 36, No. 4).   It is named after the district of  Währing in Vienna.

Wahring
Wahring

Today’s artistic offering shows the church of St Gertude in Währing, about 1850, by an unknown artist.

Palisa’s home town (called Troppau then, now Opava) is these days located in the Czech Republic, and the local university at Ostrava thought highly enough of their local hero to re-name their observatory and planetarium after him in 2000.


July 18 – Birth of John Glenn (1921)

Today marks the birth, in 1921, of John Herschel Glenn, Jr,  (died December 8th 2016), liver of quite a full life, of Scottish descent (I believe he also had relatives in Sheffield), and born in Cambridge, Ohio.  Reading that sentence back the word “liver” sounds a bit anatomical, but I’m going with it anyway.

Glenn was a member of Astronaut Group 1, more commonly known as the Mercury Seven, the original hand-picked, hard-boiled, right-stuff-infused group of astronauts selected by NASA in 1959, who had a presence in all of the classes of manned American spacecraft of the twentieth century (MercuryGeminiApollo and Shuttle).

John Herschel Glenn Jr, of the clan Glenn-Macintosh. (Image credit: NASA).
John Herschel Glenn Jr, of the clan Glenn-Macintosh. (Image credit: NASA).

Here’s a potted history of some of John Glenn’s achievements:  fighter pilot in the South Pacific, North China and Korea; test pilot; first supersonic transcontinental flight; first American to orbit the Earth; senator (Democrat); oldest person in space.

On a slightly less joyous, less happy-birthday-to-you-ous note, he managed to get himself caught up in the Lincoln Savings and Loan affair, and was for a time opposed to the inclusion of women in NASA’s astronaut program.  That said, I still don’t know how a man who had once had a ticker-tape parade through New York in his honour later managed to lose the vice-presidential race to career politician and sometime lawyer Walter Mondale, a man who would later go on to suffer one of the biggest landslide defeats in US presidential election history.

Walter Mondale is of Norwegian descent, and the ancestral family home is the village of Fjærland, on a tributary of the Sognefjord, which gives me an extremely tenuous reason to end with one of my own photographs, taken a mere ten miles or so downstream from chez Mondale in 2010.

Sognefjord, 2010. (Image credit: me.)
Sognefjord, 2010. (Image credit: me.)

1966  –  Launch of Gemini X (command pilot John W Young and pilot Michael Collins) from Cape Canaveral launch site LC-19.  This was the sixteenth manned American spaceflight.


1997  –  Death of Eugene Shoemaker, astrogeologist, and co-discoverer of comets (along with his wife and David Levy).  Of their combined tally, the most important was  probably Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided with Jupiter in 1994.


July16 – Launch of Apollo 11 (1969)

I’ll keep this quick, but as you may have heard, July 16th 1969 is a fairly important day in spaceflight history.  It’s the day on which Neil A Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin decided to get away from it all.  Their Saturn V rocket (SA-506), the fifth manned Apollo mission, blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre at about half past one in the afternoon (Staffordshire Time) and may be the reason I have the vaguest recollection of my infant school gathering after dinner to watch a launch on the school television.

Launch of Apollo 11 (image credit: NASA)
Launch of Apollo 11 (image credit: NASA)

So it’s 2019, and 50 years since the launch, and the media is abuzz with stuff about every tiniest aspect of the mission, so I’m not going to try to compete.


Also today, in 1990, Mark R Showalter, using old frames from Voyager 2, discovered Saturn’s walnut-shaped moon, Pan, in the Encke Gap of the A Ring (the outermost of the main bright rings).

Thanks to the Cassini probe, we now have images beyond the wildest dreams of Voyager scientists:

Pan, imaged by Cassini (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Pan, of course, invented the pan pipes. He was a pretty hot musician all round, but a little big-headed. The story goes that he challenged Apollo to a musical duel. Pan was good, but Apollo was better. Only one person listening to the contest believed that Pan had won. This was Midas (he of the golden touch). So annoyed was Apollo at this lack of musical taste that he changed Midas’ ears into something more appropriate: those of a donkey.

The Judgement of Midas (Peter Paul Rubens)
The Judgement of Midas (Peter Paul Rubens)

Now, correct me if I’m incorrect, but in today’s artistic offering, is Pan playing his own invention upside-down?


This post originally published in 2015.  Updated 2017, and again in 2019. 

July 15 – Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Today is the birthday of Professor Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE, born July 15th 1943 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Dame Jocelyn was the the discoverer of the first four pulsars, and, rather disgracefully, a non-recipient of the Nobel Prize for her efforts, which has annoyed a great many people, although Bell herself has been very forgiving, as one would expect from a good Quaker girl.


1890 – Asteroid 294 Felicia was discovered by Auguste Charlois.


 

July 14 – Elst-Pizarro: Asteroid or Comet?

Minor planet 7968 Elst-Pizarro was discovered by Eric W Elst and Guido Pizarro from photographic plates taken by Pizarro while he and his brother Oscar were working as assistants with the ESO Schmidt telescope at La Silla Observatory, on July 25, 1979. The discovery was reported by Elst, of the Royal Observatory, Uccle, Belgium, on August 7th. Comet 133P/Elst-Pizarro was discovered by M R S Hawkins and R H McNaught on July 14, 1996.  They are one and the same.

133P/Elst-Pizarro has characteristics of both an asteroid (for a start, it’s in the asteroid belt, with an orbit varying between 2.6 and 3.6 AU) and a comet (it sometimes has a tail). The tail suggests a non-asteroidal icy composition, although it is also possible that this is a rocky body that occasionally expresses dust due to the gas pressure of evaporating ice.  This is where I go off at a tangent to make sure we’re on the same wavelength with the word “express”.  Your small strong coffee is called an espresso because of the way the water is forced under pressure through the beans,  like so much ice from the surface of comet 133P/Elst-Pizarro (possibly) and has nothing to do with the speed of it’s drinking, or the way it makes you rush around like a lunatic for thirty minutes afterwards.  And while we’re on the subject, look up the origin of the name cappuccino. (End of pointless aside.)

The occasional nature of the tail doesn’t do much for E-P’s comet cred. It only tends to appear close to the perihelion of its 5.62 year journey around the Sun.


July 13 – Discovery of Gamma Cephei Ab (1988?)

Gamma Cephei Ab was probably discovered on July 13,  1988 by Bruce Campbell, Gordon Walker and Stephenson Yang. But there was, understandably, a certain amount of uncertainty over whether they had, in fact, discovered the first extra-solar planet, so it wasn’t confirmed until more than a decade later.
The star Gamma Cephei is, of course, in the constellation Cepheus, named after a mythological king of Aethiopia. It is a binary system, comprising Gamma Cephei A, a “K” type star (the next most common type of main sequence star after the “M” types) and B, thought to be a red dwarf.

La Délivrance d'Andromède (1679) by Pierre Mignard.
La Délivrance d’Andromède (1679) by Pierre Mignard.

Today’s visual aid is from the Louvre, Paris, and shows King Cepheus (kneeling) and his queen, Cassiopeia, thanking Perseus for freeing their daughter Andromeda.  Completing the collection of Northern constellations, a certain winged horse can be seen palette-bombing in the background.