1859 – Birth of Italian astronomer Vincenzo Cerulli, one of the first people to suggest that Martian canals might be an optical illusion. Cerulli discovered one asteroid, 704 Interamnia, named in honour of his home town. Wikipedia has his birthday as April 20th, but other sources seem to agree on the 26th.
1865 – Asteroid 83 Beatrix discovered by Annibale de Gasparis, another Italian. It is an X-type asteroid, signifying it is part of a group of bodies with similar spectral characteristics, but not necesarily similar compositions. This one was named for Beatrice Portinari, popularly thought to be the inspiration for the guide Beatrice in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
1876 – Asteroid 163 Erigone discovered by Henri Joseph Anastase Perrotin, director of the Nice Observatory, and discoverer of six asteroids. A rare opportunity was missed last year when Erigone occulted the first magnitude star Regulus. This kind of happening is rarely seen from heavily populated areas, and this one would have been visible from a small track that included New York. Unfortunately Spode’s Law came into effect and it rained heavily throughout the quarter of an hour of the event.
1884 – Main belt asteroid 236 Honoria discovered. Honoria is named after the sister of Emperor Valentinian III. She gets into the history books mostly as the perpetrator of one of the worst decisions ever made: asking Attila the Hun to help her get out of a dull marriage. Honoria was discovered by Johann Palisa. it is about 86 km across, and is a stony S-type.
1933 – Birth of Arno Penzias, co-discoverer with Robert Wilson of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the faint echos of the Big Bang.
1957 – Transmission of the first episode of “The Sky At Night” by the BBC. Under the legendary Sir Patrick Moore, it became the longest running television programme in the World to have one presenter. It’s not quite the same these days, but new presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock (she will always be the “new” presenter to some of us) is growing on me.
1962 – Launch of Ariel 1 (UK 1) the first British satellite. Surprisingly, given our lackluster approach to spaceflight today, this launch made the United Kingdom the third country on the planet to have their own satellite (but we needed the Americans to launch it for us from Cape Canaveral).