November 16 – Discovery of Asteroid 22 Kalliope (1852)

M-type main belt asteroid 22 Kalliope was discovered by John Russell Hind on 16th November 1852. It’s a reasonable size  at about 166 km across, is probably composed mostly of metals and silicates, and has a retrograde motion. More interestingly, Kalliope also has a satellite called Linus, discovered by Jean-Luc Margot and Michael E Brown in 2001.

Calliope (detail of a painting by Simon Vouet)
Calliope (detail of a painting by French artist Simon Vouet)

The name Kalliope comes from the Greek muse of epic poetry, Calliope. She was a lover of both Ares, the god of war, and Apollo. To Apollo she bore two sons: Orpheus, a man so musically talented it was said he could charm rocks, and Linus (now you see where I’ve been heading with this) the inventor of melody and rhythm. Both Ovid and Hesiod refer to Calliope as the wisest of all the muses, but as they were both poets this is hardly surprising.

Also today, from 1973, we have the launch of the third (and final) manned Skylab mission, called (confusingly) Skylab 4 (“SL-4“). Being flung upwards, via a Saturn IB launch vehicle, into their first and only spaceflights were commander Gerald P Carr, science pilot Edward G Gibson and pilot William R Pogue. The team spent 83 days docked with the Skylab space station, orbiting the Earth more than 1,000 times.

November 11 – Discovery of Asteroid 179 Klytaemnestra (1877).

Today in 1877, Canadian-American astronomer James Craig Watson discovered his final asteroid, the large main belt member 179 Klytaemnestra. This stony S-type asteroid is about 75 km across, and has a light curve giving it a rotation period of 11.13 hours, varying in by magnitude by 0.55.

A light curve is pretty much exactly what you might think. It’s a curve showing variations in brightness of the target object. Variations in the light intensity recorded can be used to infer how long it is taking the asteroid to rotate. The same method can be used to predict the shape of the asteroid.

The Murder of Agamemnon, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. Louvre, Paris.
The Murder of Agamemnon, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. Louvre, Paris.

As was fairly normal in the early days of asteroid naming, this one is a mythological Greek reference. The Spartan princess Clytemnestra was the wife of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and became infamous by killing both her husband and the Trojan princess Cassandra, whom he had chosen as a reward for his part in the victory over Troy.

1875 I love this name. Vesto Melvin Slipher, the American astronomer responsible for providing the first proof of universal expansion, was born today in Mulberry, Indianna. Slipper lived to the grand old age of 93, and spent his entire working life at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. His brother, Earl, was also an astronomer, specialising in the study of Mars.

I have no idea where his parents got the name Vesto from, but if you conjugate the Italian verb vestirsi (to wear or get dressed) you come across it pretty quickly (1st person present indicative – I dress).

1982Launch of the fifth NASA shuttle mission, STS-5, using shuttle Columbia. The four-man crew was the first to undertake an “operational” shuttle mission, by deploying two commercial satellites.

November 08 – Asteroid 27 Euterpe

The bright 27 Euterpe is a large main belt asteroid, discovered by John Russell Hind on November 8th 1853.  At opposition Euterpe can get to magnitude 8.3, making it one of the brightest asteroids.

Euterpe was Hind’s penultimate asteroid.  He had discovered four the year before, so probably thought he was headed for the record books.  But they dried up pretty quickly, with just this one in 1853, and one last find in 1854 (30 Urania).  Hind has a crater on the Moon named in his honour, lying next to the crater Halley, the namesake of which is celebrating (quietly, I assume) his 361st birthday today.

Euterpe was named after the muse of music,  the name deriving from the Greek meaning something approximating to “delight” or “rejoicing”.

Euterpe (Godefroid Guffens)
Euterpe (Godefroid Guffens)

Today’s space-filler is by the Belgian artist Godefroid Guffens, a pupil of Nicaise de Keyser, born in Hasselt, but working mostly in Antwerp.

1656  –  Birth of Edmund Halley.

1875  –  Discovery of asteroid 155 Scylla.

1956  –  Comet Arend-Roland discovered.

1958  –  Launch of Pioneer 2 in the direction of the Moon. An altitude of almost 1,000 miles was achieved, but unfortunately the Moon is another 237,000 miles further up. Actually, that flippant remark is only partly true. The average distance to the Moon is about 238,000 miles, but the actual distance varies from 225,000 miles at perigee (closest approach to Earth) to 252,000 miles at apogee (furthest distance from Earth).


November 06 – Asteroid 178 Belisana

This is going to be a short one.  Today’s discovery, 178 Belisana, is a main belt asteroid, spotted by our old friend Johann Palisa on November 6th, 1877.  It is an S-type, stony asteroid, named after the Celtic goddess of almost the same name, Belisama.


The goddess Belisama was popular in Gaul, and has been associated with Minerva.  It is also possible, but not certain, that she was goddesss of one of my local rivers, the Ribble.


November 05 – Discovery of Asteroid 126 Velleda (1872)

November 5th was a big day for prolific French asteroid hunters, the brothers Henry (Paul and Prosper), who clocked up three between them.
First today is 126 Velleda, a largish main belt asteroid discovered this day in 1872. In Germanic history Veleda was a prophetess of the Bructeri, a tribe of North Rhine-Westphalia. She correctly prophesied that her people would be successful in battle against the Romans, in what is now known as the Batavian revolt. Had they been more inquisitive though,  her friends might have thought to ask her for how long, because it didn’t take the Romans too much time to muster nine legions to crush the uprising.  Veleda was captured in AD 77.

Velleda (Charles Voillemot).A probably not entirely accurate representation
Velleda (Charles Voillemot). A probably not entirely accurate representation

Asteroid 127 Johanna, 116 km wide, discovered by the brothers on the same day, and possibly named after Joan of Arc, is notable for its unusual classification.  It is a “CX” type, as it displays the properties of both a C-type and an X-type.

Today’s final asteroid is 177 Irma, a large dark one, credited to Paul Henry, and discovered exactly five years after the first two, on November 5th, 1877.

Today in 1964 saw the launch of Mariner 3 from Cape Canaveral. The plan was for a flyby of Mars, but the cover on its solar panels failed to open,  and it is now defunct, and orbiting the Sun.

Mariner 3 (image credit: NASA).
Mariner 3 (image credit: NASA).

Mariner 4, launched three weeks later, had more success, and took the first ever close-up photographs of Mars.

November 02 – Discovery of Asteroid 13 Egeria (1850)

Annibale de Gasparis discovered today’s asteroid, 13 Egeria, in 1850, named some time later by Urbain Le Verrier in honour of an Italian nymph.

Egeria is, as usual, in the main belt, but is a G-type, not something we get in these pages every week.  G-types are similar to C-types, but are thought to contain phyllosilicates such as clays or micas.  Phyllosilicates get their name from their tendency to form sheets (phyllon is the Greek for “leaf”).

Following occultations of stars in 1992 and 2008 it was decided that Egeria is fairly circular, measuring approximately 200 km in diameter.  It was also one of the seventeen lucky rocks chosen to take part in a University of Hawaii search for satellites and dust rings around asteroids, but none were found.

Egeria Mourns Numa (Claude Lorrain)
Egeria Mourns Numa (Claude Lorrain)

The eponymous nymph shown above was a minor Roman goddess whose origin is unclear (we don’t even know for certain if she was a water nymph or a mountain nymph).   Her cult is known to have been celebrated at several sacred groves, though not usually on her own.   She provided prophecy in return for gifts of water or milk, and was able to divine the sometimes seemingly impenetrable omens sent by the gods.  Her relationship with Numa Pompilius, the supposed second king of Rome (after Romulus) was as a sort of counselor.  Numa supposedly wrote down her teachings and had them buried with him.  When they were discovered by peasants years later, according to Livy, they were thought to be so inflammatory in nature that the Senate had them burned.

1875   ⇒   Discovery of asteroids 152 Atala by the French optician/astronomer brothers Paul and Prosper Prosper Henry, and 153 Hilda by Johann Palisa.

1885   ⇒   Birth, in Nashville, of Harlow Shapley, the American astronomer who correctly estimated the size of the Milky Way, and where the Sun sits within it.  This was achieved using RR Lyrae variable stars, a class of very handy “standard candles” whose luminosity can be used to estimate distances within our galaxy.

November 01 – Discovery of Asteroid 151 Abundantia (1875)

Asteroid 151 Abundantia was discovered on November 1st 1875 by Johann Palissa, at Pula (Croatia).  It’s a stony main belt asteroid, about 45 km across, with a rotational period of approximately 19.7 hours.

Abundantia and her horn (Rubens)
Abundantia and her horn (Rubens)

The name Abundantia was chosen by Edmund Weiss, and refers to the Roman goddess of abundance and prosperity.  As can be seen from the picture, she was one of several deities to be associated with the cornucopia, said to be one of the horns of the goat Amaltheia (also now an asteroid, and at one time a constellation – Capra, the she-goat) who suckled the infant god Zeus.

1919      Birth of Hermann Bondi, developer of the steady state theory with Fred Hoyle and Thomas Gold.  Bondi was born in Austria, but became a British citizen in 1946.  Why he would want to become a citizen of a country that had interred him as an enemy alien during World War II we shall probably never know, but it was a good move, as he went on to become a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB) and master of Churchill College, Cambridge.

1962      Launch of Mars 1 (also known as Sputnik 23) by the USSR. Communication was lost on March 21st 1963, when the probe was just over 66 million miles from Earth.  It is now in orbit around the Sun.

October 31 – Discovery of Asteroids 261 Prymno and 281 Lucretia

A  brace of early asteroids were discovered on October 31st.  First today we have 261 Prymno, spotted by C H F Peters in 1886.  Prymno is in the main belt, is about 51 km wide, and is a relatively uncommon B-type.  These are similar to C-types, but are generally lighter in colour than their carbonaceous cousins, and tend to have a bluer spectrum.  Asteroid 101955 Bennu is another B-type, about which I expect to be saying a lot more following the conclusion of the OSIRIS-REx mission.

Prymno is named after an Oceanid of Greek mythology.  They were the daughters (numbering an impressive 3000) of the God Oceanus, the personification of the sea.  Oceanus also had 3000 sons (of course) who were river gods known as the Potamoi.

Oceanus (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne).
Oceanus (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne).

Our second asteroid today is 281 Lucretia, discovered two years after Prymno by Johann Palisa.  A fairly small S-type asteroid of about 12 km diameter, Lucretia is a member of the Flora family of asteroids, a big group (about 5% of main belt asteroids are in this family) located in the inner main belt.

Caroline Herschel (1750-1848).
Caroline Herschel (1750-1848).

The naming of Lucretia has nothing to do with the Borgias, and everything to do with the middle name of German-born astronomer Caroline Herschel, sister of the more famous Sir William Herschel.



October 28 – Discovery of Asteroid 33 Polyhymnia (1854)

The Greek muse of sacred music was chosen to be the namesake of French astronomer Jean Chacornac’s second asteroid, 33 Polyhymnia, discovered on October 28, 1854.
Approximately 62km in diameter at its widest point, and rotating once every eighteen hours, this S-type main belt minor planet has an absolute magnitude of 8.55, and an unusually high eccentricity for such an early discovery, which helps it to reach quite good apparent magnitudes at certain times (10th magnitude is not unknown when Polyhymnia is close to Earth).


The muse Polyhymnia is often depicted as rather a serious figure, in a thoughtful or contemplative pose (holding her finger to her mouth, for example). Now, this is all very well for the muse of sacred hymns, but as she is also responsible for pantomime, I’m not sure I can take her all that seriously.

1971   ⇒    Launch of the Prospero satellite (X-3) by the UK, using a British Black Arrow rocket, making it the first all-British launch (almost – the launch took place from Woomera, South Australia).  The UK’s previous satellite was called Ariel, so you’ll probably not need telling which Elizabethan playwright is being nodded toward in the choice of names.  Prospero is still up there, and isn’t expected to decay until 2070.

A "spare" Prospero, on display in the Science Museum, London. (Image credit: Geni).
A “spare” Prospero, on display in the Science Museum, London. (Image credit: Geni).

Although no longer a working satellite, Prospero was contacted every few years, usually on the anniversary of its launch (but not recently).



October 22 – Discovery of Asteroid 209 Dido (1879)

Asteroid 209 Dido, discovered by C H F Peters on October 22nd 1879, is a large, C-type main belt asteroid with a very low albedo.  It is about 140 km (87 miles) in diameter, and completes one rotation every eight hours of its 2039 day journey around the Sun.

Dido was the mythological queen and founder of Carthage, and sister of Pygmalion (the guy who fell in love with a statue he had carved).  She is best known for (i) her affair with Aeneas, the Trojan hero, and (ii) being the subject of an opera by Henry Purcell.

Guercino's "Death of Dido" (1631)
Guercino’s “Death of Dido” (1631)

Today’s artistic offering is by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591 – 1666), the self-taught, cross-eyed, fast painting Italian genius, more commonly known as Guercino (meaning “squinter”), responsible for more than 100 altarpieces and nearly 150 paintings.

1969  ⇒ Splashdown of Apollo VII, the first manned Apollo mission.

1905  ⇒ Birth of Karl Jansky, one of the founding fathers of radio astronomy.