October 18 – Nuwa and Chiron

James Craig Watson was responsible for today’s first entry.  150 Nuwa was first spotted by him on October 18th, 1875, and is a large, dark, C-type, main belt asteroid in the Hecuba group.

Nuwa is about 146 km across, and takes a little more than 5 years to orbit the Sun.  It is named after the Chinese goddess Nüwa, thought to be creator of mankind.

Nüwa and Fu Xi (Han Dynasty mural).

Nüwa and Fu Xi (Han Dynasty mural).


Our second rock today is 2060 Chiron, a 233 km wide cross between an asteroid and a comet, discovered on this day in 1977 by Charles T Kowal, and named after a centaur (half man, half horse) from Greek mythology.  This particular centaur was known as the wisest of his race, and tutored the young Achilles.

The Education of Achilles (James Barry, 1772)

The Education of Achilles (James Barry, 1772)

Chiron was the first object to be discovered orbiting between Saturn and Uranus.  Objects in this class are now known as centaurs.


1963  –  Launch of Kosmos 20.


October 18th, 1989 saw the launch of the Galileo spacecraft, on its way to Jupiter. It was carried out of Earth’s atmosphere by the shuttle Atlantis (mission STS-34). Unusually for a craft headed to Jupiter, Galileo was first pointed in the direction of Venus. This was because the fastest way to get the probe to its target was to use the “gravitational assist” method of acceleration. After Venus, Galileo came back past Earth for a speed boost, before a rendezvous with asteroid 951 Gaspra (October 29th, 1991).

Gaspra from the Galileo probe (image: NASA)

Gaspra from the Galileo probe (image: NASA)

It was then able to slingshot past Earth a second time, adding more than 3 km/second to its speed, before a second asteroid encounter, this time with 243 Ida on August 28th, 1993. Jupiter was reached on December 7th, 1995, whereupon Galileo became the first spacecraft to park in orbit around the gas giant.

White Ovals in the Jovian Atmosphere imaged by Galileo. (Image: NASA)

White Ovals in the Jovian Atmosphere imaged by Galileo. (Image: NASA)

Galileo spent eight years in the Jovian system, and was deliberately destroyed on September 21st, 2003 by dropping it into Jupiter’s atmosphere.


 

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October 14 – Asteroid 176 Iduna

Today we have an asteroid with a name from a source I wasn’t expecting.  176 Iduna, discovered on the 14th of October 1877 by Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters, was apparently named, by its discoverer, in honour of a social club in Stockholm that had hosted a meeting of the Astronomischen Gesellschaft (literally Astronomical Society) in 1877.  This G-type main belt asteroid still manages, though, to have a mythological connection.  The social club (the Ydun) got its name from a Norse goddess, Iðunn, associated with youth and apples.  The name translates vaguely into English as “ever young”.

Stockholm (image: me)

Stockholm (image: me)

That’s twice in two weeks I’ve been able to find a flimsy reason to sneak my own photographs in.  Last time it was Copenhagen: today it’s Stockholm.  To redress the balance, here’s a picture of the goddess Iðunn as well:

Bragi and Iðunn (1846) by Nils Blommér

Bragi and Iðunn (1846) by Nils Blommér

(Iðunn is the one with the apples.)


1884  –  Discovery of asteroid 244 Sita by Johann Palissa.


1964  –  Launch of Kosmos 48.


 

September 26 – Asteroid 610 Valeska

Asteroid 610 Valeska was discovered on September 26th, 1906, by Max Wolf at Heidelberg.

The JPL Small Body Database Browser gives a diameter of 19.153 km (I’m happy with “just under 20”).

Now, Lutz D Schmadel’s Dictionary of Minor Planet Names has this one listed in the appendix of bodies for which the origin of the name is unknown.  There was actually a fairly famous Valeska around at the time of the discovery and naming, but I’m not sure whether she was big enough to impress the astronomers of Heidelberg.

Valeska Suratt

Valeska Suratt

Valeska Suratt was born on June 28th, 1882, in Owensville, Indianna, and began an acting career in Vaudeville at the turn of the 20th century.  She moved onto Broadway in 1906, and began a film career in 1915.  Unfortunately Max Wolf, though he did visit the USA, did so way before Suratt became famous.

But a minor detail like that isn’t going to stop me from adding her photograph to today’s blog.