September 13 – Babcock

Horace Welcome Babcock (fantastic name), astronomer and inventor, was born today in 1912, son of solar specialist Harold D Babcock.  Babcock junior was the chap who realised that changing the shape of mirrors can be used to reduce the distorting effect of turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere on light from distant objects (called adaptive optics). Unfortunately he made this discovery in the 1950s, roughly 40 years before the technology to actually do it became available.

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Asteroid 12 Victoria, named after the Roman goddess of Victory (and possibly the queen of the same name) was spotted by John Russell Hind on September 13th 1850.  It’s an S-type, which you will recall are the stony asteroids, the second most common group, most of whom are congregated in the inner main belt.  Victoria has an apparent magnitude varying between 8.7 and 12.8, suggesting she is either elongated or binary.

Victoria the goddess was very important to the Romans (much more than her predecessor Nike had been to the Greeks).  I’m guessing this had something to do with her rôle in deciding who would be victorious in battle.

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Asteroid 104 Klymene is a Themistian asteroid, discovered by J C Watson on September 13th 1868. The Themistians are a family of C-type asteroids, named after 24 Themis (and including 62 Erato, coming up tomorrow).

Klymene and Hera

Klymene and Hera

The name Klymene (or Clymene) crops up quite a few times in Greek mythology, but one of them, an attendant to Hera, stands out in my mind as being the most likely candidate for today’s rock, when you consider that the asteroid named immediately before this one was 103 Hera. This particular Klymene was an Oceanid (daughter of Oceanus) and you can see her, with Hera, in today’s picture, a detail of a depiction of the Judgement of Paris from the Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhle.

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September 12 – Gemini XI

Gemini XI, launched on September 12th 1966, was the 17th manned US spaceflight, and the 9th manned flight of the Gemini programme. It was crewed by Charles “Pete” Conrad and Richard “Dick” Gordon. The main aim of the mission was to rendezvous with an Agena Target Vehicle, to simulate the return of a Lunar Module to the Command/Service Module following a landing. Several such rendezvous were performed successfully, as well as two periods of extra-vehicular activity (that’s space walks to you and me).

The Crew of Gemini XI

The Crew of Gemini XI (image credit: NASA)

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Asteroid 59 Elpis  is a rather large, dark (albedo 0.04) C-type asteroid in the main belt. It has a diameter of 165 km.  Elpis was discovered by Jean Chacornac on September 12th 1860 (it was his last find). The name Elpis was chosen by Karl L Lithow, director of the Vienna Observatory. Elpis is the personification of ‘hope’ in Greek mythology, and was supposedly the only item left in Pandora’s pithos (jar, not box) after she had emptied it.

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ALSO TODAY . . . 

Firstly, asteroid 117 Lomia was discovered by Alphonse Borrelly on September 12th 1871 from Marseilles. It has a nearly circular orbit, and in composition is somewhere between a C-type and an X-type. The origin of the name is unknown.

And secondly, asteroid 241 Germania (C-type, main belt) was discovered today in 1884 by Robert Luther in Düsseldorf. He named it, obviously, after his homeland.  I was tempted here to insert a photograph of a moustachioed general in a uniform and spiky helmet, but I resisted. No racial stereotypes here.

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September 11 – Messier 2

M2, or NGC 7089, is a globular cluster of about 150,000 stars in Aquarius. It was discovered twice: firstly by Jean-Dominique Maraldi on September 11th 1746, and again on the same date 14 years later (1760) by Charles Messier.

Messier 2 (aka NGC 7089)

Messier 2 (aka NGC 7089)

M2 is fairly large, as globular clusters go, at 175 light years across, a little more elliptical in shape than most, and quite elderly (13 billion years old). It is also heading slowly in our direction, at 5.3 km/second. ‘Slowly’, of course, is relative to other intra-galactic speeds. Travelling at three miles a second would be plenty fast enough to get you a speeding ticket down here, but up there it’s nothing special.

(image from freestarcharts.com)

(image from freestarcharts.com)

Theoretically, M2 is a naked eye object if the sky is dark enough, but in practice that doesn’t apply round here in the land of the midnight security lamp. I need at least the small ‘scope to see anything.


Asteroid 125 Liberatrix, discovered by Prosper Henry (or possibly Paul Henry: you can never be sure) on September 11th 1872. It appears to be an M-type, and is possibly the biggest remnant of a larger body.

As for the name, the theory is that it honours Adolphe Thiers, president of the French Republic and suppressor of the Commune, who had recently been instrumental in extracting France from the Franco-Prussian War, in which they were doing none too well.


Asteroid 202 Chryseïs was discovered on this very day in 1879 by C F H Peters. It is about 86 km in diameter, and completes one full rotation every 16 hours as it travels at 17 km/second on its 5.4 year journey around the Sun.

Chryses visit to Agamemnon to ransom his daughter Chryseis (Image: Habib M’henni / Wikimedia Commons)

Chryses visit to Agamemnon to ransom his daughter Chryseis (Image: Habib M’henni / Wikimedia Commons)

In Greek mythology, Chryseïs (also known as Astynome) is indirectly the cause of most of the action in the Iliad. She is captured and enslaved by Agamemnon in Book One, and his refusal to allow her to be ransomed by her father, a priest of Apollo, eventually leads to all sorts of issues.


And while we’re talking of Apollo, asteroid 101955 Bennu was discovered on September 11th 1999 by the LINEAR project. It’s an Apollo, which means it has an orbit that brings it close to Earth, but in the case of Bennu not close enough to hit us (not yet, anyway). This proximity to Earth has led to Bennu being chosen as the target of the Osiris-REX “sample return” mission, which departed planet Earth in September 2016, and will return laden with souvenirs in 2023.


September 10 – 54 Alexandra

Asteroid 54 Alexandra was the first to be named after a man (sort of – they changed it from Alexander but it’s pretty close). This C-type asteroid was discovered on September 10th 1858 by Hermann Goldschmidt.  Occultation observations have given a roughly oval shape of about 160 km long and 135 km wide, and light curve data predicts a rotation period of just over 18 hours. Alexandra used to be the head of a family of similar bodies, but the name is no longer used.

Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt was a Prussian explorer of great reknown. He spent a good deal of his time studying the geography, flora and fauna of Latin America (and was among the first to suggest it might have been part of the same landmass as Africa).  he also has an impressive collection of plants, animals, geographical features, roads, parks, towns and counties named after him.  And I bet you thought he was just a penguin.

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Asteroid 55 Pandora was discovered today in 1858 by American astronomer and priest George Mary Searle.  Pandora is a large, bright E-type asteroid.  The E-types are a group of enstatite- bearing asteroids, usually quite small, (Pandora is one of the exceptions) all thought to originate from a much larger body, now broken up.  Searle only discovered one asteroid, but with six galaxies under his belt I suppose he was happy enough.

Pandora (East façade of the Cour Carrée in the Louvre palace, Paris.) Image: © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Pandora (East façade of the Cour Carrée in the Louvre palace, Paris.) Image: © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Pandora (above) was supposedly, according to Greek mythology, the first human woman, created on the orders of Zeus.  We all think we know about Pandora, of course, and we are all wrong.  A mis-translation of the Greek word pithos (“jar”) into pixos (“box”) has made ignoramuses (not ignorami) of us all.

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ALSO TODAY . . .

. . . asteroid 231 Vindobona was discovered in 1882.  It’s a dark main-belter, discovered by our most regular contributor to the list, Johann Palissa, and given the Gaulish name for Vienna (literally “white bottom”).

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September 09 – Amalthea

Amalthea, named after the foster-mother of Zeus, is Jupiter’s third moon (counting outwards), and the largest of the inner satellites. It was the last to be discovered by an astronomer standing staring up a telescope rather than taking photographs to peruse later. The astronomer was Edward Emerson Barnard (of Barnard’s Star fame) and he discovered Amalthea on September 9th 1892 with the 36 inch refractor at Lick Observatory in California.

Amalthea is roughly ellipsoidal in shape (a bit like a rugby ball), about 250 km long and 140 km wide, and orbits Jupiter with the long axis always pointing towards the planet (as with our own Moon, known as tidal locking). It is mostly reddish in colour, but patches of green have been seen. The surface is widely cratered.

Amalthea from Voyager 1 (image credit: NASA)

Amalthea from Voyager 1 (image credit: NASA)

Amalthea would be a fantastic place from which to view Jupiter. The giant planet occupies 46° in the sky, or about a quarter of it. You would have to careful not to jump up and down with the excitement, though, as the escape velocity of 0.06km/s means that if you did jump up, the “and down” part wouldn’t happen.

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Asteroid 56 Melete , despite being another large, dark, main belt asteroid, does have something to distinguish it from most of the other large, dark, main belt asteroids I’ve been waffling about for the past three years: it’s a P-type. These asteroids are typically found in the outer reaches of the main belt, and have a low albedo with a reddish spectrum. They are thought to have organic silicates in their make-up, and possibly even water ice.

This particular P-type asteroid was discovered from Paris by Hermann Goldschmidt on September 9th, 1857. It was named after one of the three Boeotian muses of Greek mythology (her name means ‘ponder’, so she is the muse of meditation), and although I’ve been looking all over the place I have been completely unable to find her likeness on any painting, drawing, etching, frieze, fresco or vase, which is annoying. I shall ponder where to try next.

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Asteroid 61 Danaë  –  discovered September 9th 1860. Danaë is a large, rocky S-type asteroid of about 80 km diameter in the main belt, rotating every eleven and a half hours. It was discovered from Paris by Hermann Goldschmidt, but named by Robert Luther after the mother of Perseus.  The father was, as usual, Zeus, who impregnated her in the guise of a shower of golden rain (no comment).

Danaë, in playful mood.

Danaë, in playful mood.

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Asteroid 189 Phthia  is another notch on the tripod for Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters (he was here yesterday with 116 Sirona, and it’ll be his birthday later in the month). Phthia is a rocky S-type asteroid, about 40 km wide, in the main belt. It was first spotted on September 9th 1878 from Clinton, New York. Phthia is named after a place: it was the name of an area of southern Thessaly, in Greece, founded by Achilles’ grandfather Aiakos, and was home to the Myrmidons, who fought on the winning side in the Trojan War.

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Asteroid 297 Caecilia  –  September 9th 1890. A main belt asteroid of about 40 km diameter, orbiting the Sun every 5.6 years. I have so far been unable to find any reference to the origin of this name. It was discovered by Auguste Charlois on the same day as 298 Baptistina (see below), another asteroid with a mysterious name.

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Asteroid 298 Baptistina, discovered by Auguste Charlois on September 9th 1890, has a more colourful past than most. It is the head of the Baptistina family of asteroids, all of which share a similar orbit and are thought to have a common origin in a much larger body that was destroyed in a collision. For a while it was thought that this event resulted in the creation of a fragment that hit Earth 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. Recently though, data from WISE has given a date for the collision that destroyed Baptistina of about 80 million years ago. This is too recent, as the resulting fragment would have needed far longer to reach Earth and collide with us than the 15 million years available.

Baptistina, as mentioned earlier in today’s offering, is another of those pesky rocks whose name refers to a person, place or event about which we appear to have no knowledge.

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September 08 – 116 Sirona

116 Sirona is a large, bright, main-belt asteroid, discovered on September 8th 1871 by Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters, discoverer of 48 asteroids, who was working at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York at the time. It was named after the Celtic goddess of healing.

As far as we know, Sirona is about 71 km in diameter, has a rotation period of a little over 12 hours, and is of an S-type composition.

Sirona and Grannus (Musée Archéologique de Dijon)

Sirona and Grannus (Musée Archéologique de Dijon)

The goddess Sirona is one of those local deities who managed to become assimilated into post-Roman conquest worship. Most references to her are found in eastern Gaul, and she is most often seen depicted with Apollo, but has also been found on a stone pillar with Minerva and Hercules. Her main association was with healing springs, but she also had an affinity for snakes.

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2016  –  Launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex sample return mission to asteroid Bennu.  As I write this (September 2017) OSIRIS-Rex is heading towards Earth to take advantage of a slingshot to propel itself towards the unsuspecting Bennu.  Arrival at the asteroid is due in August 2018.

September 07 – 103 Hera

For the second day running we turn to Canadian astronomer James Craig Watson for today’s asteroid.  103 Hera was discovered on September 7th 1868, a year and a day after 94 Aurora (there had been two more for him in between).

Hera is a relatively large (about 90 km diameter) stony S-type asteroid.

Hera

Hera

Hera (or Here, pronounced ‘hearee’), as must have been perfectly normal among Greek gods given how frequently it seemed to have happened, was sister and wife of Zeus. She was the daughter of Cronos and Rhea, and mother to Ares,Hephaestus, Hebe and Eris, several of whom will turn up later in the year. Hera, with help from Athena and Aphrodite, was responsible for the Trojan War, after the Trojan prince Paris was drafted in to decide the result of an informal beauty pageant between the three of them. He came down on the side of Aphrodite after she offered him the most beautiful woman in the world as a bribe. The woman in question was Helen of Sparta (later “of Troy” of course) wife of Menelaus, the Spartan king.

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ALSO TODAY . . . .

1914  –  Birth of James Van Allen (of radiation belt fame) in Iowa.

2013  –  Launch of LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) by NASA.  LADEE landed on the lunar surface on April 17, 2014.

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September 06 – 94 Aurora

At 225 km long by 173 km wide, the extremely sooty (albedo 0.04) 94 Aurora is one of the largest asteroids known (currently occupying 25th place).  It was discovered on September 6th 1867 by James Craig Watson.

Albedo, as I’m sure you know, is a measure of how reflective a surface is.  It goes from ‘zero’ (completely black) to ‘one’ (perfectly white). Aurora’s 0.04, to give you an idea, is the albedo of charcoal (fresh snow is 0.9).

ans “dawn” in Latin, as in Aurora Borealis, the “northern sunrise” (Borealis comes from Boreas, Greek god of the cold North wind).  Aurora’s family history is a little sketchy and inconsistent, but her siblings are Sol (the Sun) and Luna (have a guess).  She may or may not, depending on who you read, been mother of the Anemoi, the gods of the winds (one of whom of course was Boreas).

Aurora and Cephalus (Guérin).

Aurora and Cephalus (Guérin).

Today’s picture is by our old friend Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, the highly-rated French painter (he was a member of the very exclusive Académie des Beaux-Arts) making his second appearance in a week (see also Phaedre on September 02).

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ALSO TODAY . . . .

1891  –  Birth of Finnish astronomer Yrjö Väisälä.

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September 04 – 218 Bianca

Asteroid 218 Bianca was discovered by Johann Palisa on September 4th 1880. It is a fairly large, asymetrical asteroid, rotating every 6.3 hours, and orbiting the Sun once every 4.3 years at a speed of over 18km/s.

Bianca Bianchi

Bianca Bianchi

The naming of Bianca caused more interest than usual in the European newspapers because the honour was given to Bertha Schwarz (stage name Bianca Bianchi), the German soprano. She was pretty much the Monserrat Caballe of late nineteenth century Viennese opera circles, so famous that she inspired Johann Strauss II to write the waltz “Frühlingsstimmen” (Voices of Spring) for her (although strangely he dedicated it to the pianist Alfred Grünfeld).

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September 03 – 230 Athamantis

Asteroid 230 Athamantis, discovered September 3rd 1882, was the only asteroid to be found by the German-Austrian astronomer Leo Anton Karl de Ball. It is an S-type, just over 100km across, and has a rotation period of almost exactly 24 hours.

Roman Fresco showing Phrixos and Helle (Athamantis)

Roman Fresco showing Phrixos and Helle (Athamantis)

In Greek mythology Athamantis is usually known as Helle, and she features in the story of Jason and the Argonauts. To cut a long story short she fell off a flying golden ram into the Hellespont (who hasn’t done that on a Saturday night?) and died. Her twin brother Phrixos survived the flight and presented the ram’s golden fleece to King Aeetes of Colchis, thus starting another long story.

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Asteroid 250 Bettina is one of Johann Palissa‘s. He discovered it lurking in the main belt on September 3rd, 1885. It has an absolute magnitude of 7.58, is about 80km across, and completes one full rotation every 5 hours (as usual, my statistics are severely rounded up or down; I assume nobody reading this cares much about being accurate to three decimal places).

Baroness Bettina de Rothschild

Baroness Bettina de Rothschild

Bettina gets her name from the Baroness Bettina de Rothschild (15 Feb 1858 to 24 Mar 1892), wife of the banker Albert Salomon von Rothschild. Palisa was in need of cash to fund an expedition to view the total solar eclipse of 1886, and Rothschild parted with £50 (a sum probably a lot more eye-widening then than now) for the opportunity to immortalise his wife.

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