March 19 – 326 Tamara

1892   –   Asteroid 326 Tamara, discovered March 19 1892 by Johann Palisa.  It is a C-type asteroid of about 93 km wide in the main belt, named after Tamar the Great, Queen of Georgia.

Queen Tamar, and her father, George III of Georgia.

Queen Tamar, and her father, George III of Georgia.

1892  –  Asteroid 332 Siri was also discovered on March 19th 1892, but by Max Wolf at Heidelberg.  It’s a fairly small object, about 40km wide.  The origin of the name is not known, and I haven’t been able to find any likely candidates.  Part of the problem, of course, is that, as with the aforementioned Tamara, and the next on this page, Isara, the name could have been altered to fit some perceived idea of what an asteroid’s name should sound like.

1893  –  Asteroid 364 Isara was discovered by Auguste Charlois.  It is a member of the large Flora family of S-type asteroids, which may be parents of the L chondrite meteorites.  The Isère river, from which this asteroid derives its name, flows from the Alps and joins the Rhone near Valence in southern France.

1919  –  Karl Wilhelm Reinmuth discovers asteroid 911 Agamemnon, a “Greek camp” Jupiter Trojan of approximately 83 km radius (making it probably the second biggest).

Originally posted 2015. Updated 2017.


December 09 – Patrick Moore

There’s not a lot I can say that hasn’t already been said a hundred times or more about this chap, but it’s four years today since the passing, at the age of 89, of Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore CBE, FRS, FRAS, singleton, leg spinner, xylophonist (if that’s the right word), RAF veteran, composer, cat lover, EEC hater, star of The GoodiesThe Morecambe and Wise Show and GamesMaster, general legend, and best all-round entertainer since Daffy Duck.  And it appears from the photograph that he also may have owned a telescope.

Patrick Moore (image credit: unknown).

Patrick Moore (image credit: unknown).

I’m not sure where I got that signed photograph from, but it lives inside my copy of Mrs Moore in Space, by Patrick’s mother, Gertrude.

I briefly met him a few times, donkey’s years ago: two of these were at speeches he was giving in the environs of North Staffordshire and South Cheshire, where I was restricted to standing in line waiting for an autograph, and twice were a little more informal at book signings I was involved with in my previous life as a bookseller.  I’d like to say how many books Patrick Moore wrote, but I’m not entirely sure they can be easily counted, as they stretch over such a long period, and had such wildly varied life spans.

To end on a sour note: it’s pantomime season, so boos and hisses to Macmillan publishers, who decided in 2016 to cease publication of “Patrick Moore’s Yearbook of Astronomy”.  Remind me to never buy any of their books again.

1892  ⇒  Discovery of the large main belt asteroid 349 Dembowska by French astronomer Auguste Charlois.  It was named in honour of the Italian astronomer Baron Ercole Dembowski, a specialist in double stars (and if the name sounds less than Italian, it’s because his father was a Polish general).  349 Dembowska is about 140 km wide, and is one of the brightest of the large asteroids.  It is classified as R-type, characterised by spectral lines showing the presence of olivine and pyroxene (the main constituents of the Earth’s mantle), and possibly plagioclase feldspars.


December 07 – Asteroid 423 Diotima

Asteroid 423 Diotima was discovered from Nice by Auguste Charlois on December 7th 1898. It’s in the main belt, is a C-type, is fairly large (approximately 170 by 140 km) and rotates about every 4.8 hours.

Diptima has a semi-major axis of a little over 3 AU.  Semi-major axis is a new phrase to these pages, but don’t panic: it’s just the longest radius of of an elliptical orbit.

Diotima of Mantinea

Diotima of Mantinea

Diotima was named, by the Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, after one of Socrates’ teachers, Diotima of Mantinea (if she ever existed – the jury is still out on whether or not she was simply a creation of Plato). It is from the teachings of Diotima that we get the concept of platonic love. I can’t help thinking there’s a clue to her existence (or lack of it) in that name. Surely it would have been diotimic love?

December 01 – Asteroid 157 Dejanira

At 10km wide, and with an absolute magnitude of +10.6 and a rotation period of 15.82 hours, 157 Dejanira is a fairly ordinary main belt asteroid discovered by Alphonse Borelly on December 1st 1875. It has since become the head of a family of similarly located asteroids.

Dejanira is named for the mythological Greek princess Deianira, daughter of the king of Calydon.  Supposedly a great beauty, she caught the eye of both the hero Herakles and the deity Achelous, god of the river Acheloos. Herakles won, of course, and took Deianira as his wife. This turned out to be one of his less inspired decisions, as is explained in The Women of Trachis by Sophocles. Early in their relationship,  Herakles had saved Deianira from being carried off by a centaur called Nessus, by killing him with an arrow. Somehow the dying Nessus persuaded Deianira that his blood was a love potion.  Deianira kept some, and when she later found out that Herakles was about to embark on an amorous adventure with a captive princess,  she dyed a robe with it and sent it to her husband as a gift, forgetting that his own arrows were dipped in the blood of a hydra, and had therefore made Nessus’ blood a powerful poison.

Black Figure Hydria (water carrier) showing Heracles, Deianira and Nessus (Louvre, Paris).

Black Figure Hydria (water carrier) showing Heracles, Deianira and Nessus (Louvre, Paris).

I’d like to say here that “hilarity ensues and they all lived happily ever after”, but obviously it didn’t, and they don’t.  Read The Women of Trachis to depress yourself further.

1894 ~ Discovery of main belt asteroid 396 Aeolia (named after an area of Asia Minor) by Auguste Charlois.

1989 ~ I think I need to look up the Russian for International Astrophysical Observatory , because the acronym is GRANAT, and I can’t get past the “G”. Anyhoo, it was launched on December 1st 1989 by the Soviet Union, in collaboration with Bulgaria, France and Denmark. Able to observe at wavelengths From X- to gamma ray, Granat was operational for nine years, and discovered twenty new X-ray sources. Granat was similar in design to the older Astron observatory, which had itself been based around the Venera design.

Granat, perched on a Proton launch vehicle, shortly before liftoff. (Image: NASA)

Granat, perched on a Proton launch vehicle, shortly before liftoff. (Image: NASA)


September 24 – Asteroid 318 Magdalena

Asteroid 318 Magdalena, discovered on September 24th 1891 by Auguste Charlois, is a main belt asteroid of about 105 to 106 km diameter, of unknown composition. The reason the name was chosen remains a mystery.

This makes it very difficult to say anything much of interest about this object, leading to a very short blog.  I’ll fill this one out a little with the orbital facts and figures for our mysterious friend Magdalena.

Aphelion 3.461 AU
Perihelion 2.927 AU
Orbital period 5.71 years
orbital speed 16.67 km/sec
Semi-major axis 3.194 AU
Eccentricity 0.084
Inclination 10.641°
Longitude of ascending node 161.671°
Argument of Perihelion 300.312°

(Epoch – Jan 20, 2005).

ALSO TODAY . . . .

1964  –  Launch of Kosmos 46 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Kosmos 46 spent 8 days in orbit, taking in the view and photographing it, before returning a capsule of film by parachute.

March 22 – Messier 94

Messier 94, also known as NGC4736, was discovered today in 1781 by Pierre Méchain. It is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici, and is about 16 million light years (4.91 megaparsecs) away from us.

M94 (Image: NASA; JPL; Spitzer)

M94 (Image: NASA; JPL; Spitzer)

M94 has its own grouping of galaxies within the Virgo Supercluster, called (unsurprisingly) the M94 group . The group has about 20 members.

Asteroid 327 Columbia was discovered by Auguste Charlois on March 22nd, 1892. It is in the main belt, has an absolute magnitude of 10.1, and is of unknown spectral type.

Asteroid 327 was named after Christopher Columbus, the Genes explorer who helped kick-start the Spanish colonisation of the Americas.  Any mental image you might have of Columbus’ appearance is from a portrait made after his death.  There are no known paintings of Columbus dating from his lifetime.  So I won’t be including one here.


March 15 – Alan Bean

Captain Alan LaVern Bean, USN, was born on this day in 1932 in Wheeler, Texas (100 miles east of Amarillo).

Alan Bean on his way down. (Image credit: NASA)

Alan Bean about to do the almost impossible. (Image credit: NASA)

Bean clocked up 69 days in space aboard Apollo 12 (he was the 4th person to undertake the highly improbable act of walking on the Moon) and Skylab mission SL-3. Following his retirement from NASA, Bean turned his attention to painting. As far as I know, he is the only artist to incorporate genuine Moon dust into his work.

1853  –  Asteroid 78 Diana was discovered on March 15th, 1853 by Robert Luther, the German astronomer who discovered 24 asteroids. According to IRAS observations Diana is about 120 km across, a figure that matches quite well with the 116 km diameter obtained from observations of the occultation of star SAO 75392 in 1980. Diana is named after the Roman goddess of the hunt, and her Greek equivalent, Artemis, will be turning up in these pages later in the year (discovered September 16th, 1868).

1873  –  Asteroid 118 Peitho discovered by Robert Luther. This main belt asteroid is about 47 km in diameter, and categorised as S-type. There are a couple of Peitho‘s in Greek mythology, with the most likely candidate for this naming ceremony being the goddess of seduction, an attendant of Aphrodite. Her Roman name, Suada, presumably shares a root with the Latin persuadere , the place from where we get the middle English word persuasion.

1895Asteroid 400 Ducrosa discovered by Auguste Charlois. It was named after Joseph Ducros, a technician at the Nice Observatory.

March 08 – 65 Cybele

One of these days I’ll do a blog on orbital resonance (but it’ll make my head hurt, so not today).  Today I’ll just be mentioning that asteroid 65 Cybele was discovered on March 8th 1861, and now gives its’ name to a whole family of similar bodies in the outer asteroid belt, who orbit just past the “2:1 orbital resonance” with Jupiter.

Cybele was discovered by Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel (1821-1889), a comet hunter by inclination, but he managed to find five asteroids as well.  If the name sounds familiar, it might be because he discovered the comets 55P/Tempel-Tuttle (parent of the Leonids) and 9P/Tempel, target of the Deep Impact probe.

Measuring something as small and far away as an asteroid isn’t easy from Earth, but best guesses using IRAS observations, give an average diameter (if Cybele were round, which it isn’t) of approximately 240km (about 150 miles).  That’s kind of like a spherical Wales, so when I say small it’s all relative – it wouldn’t feel small if it decided to head this way.

Statue of Cybele from Lazio.

Statue of Cybele from Lazio.

Cybele was a goddess of Phrygia (now part of Turkey) adopted by the Greeks as they colonised the area and brought back home to join their large collection of deities.  She is a “mother goddess” with similar attributes to the already well-established deities Gaia, Rhea and Demeter; but this doesn’t seem to have worried the Greeks, who always seemed to be on the lookout for someone new to worship.

1888  –  Asteroid 273 Atropos discovered by Johann Palisa.  Atropos was the oldest of the fates in Greek mythology.  Her job was to decide the method of death of every mortal.

1893  –  Main belt asteroid 358 Apollonia was discovered by Auguste Charlois.

1894  –  Exactly one year later, Charlois discovered asteroid 389 Industria, an S-type body of about 79 km in diameter.

1967  –  OSO 3 launched from Cape Canaveral.  This was the third of the Orbiting Solar Observatories, and was bristling with experiments to measure x-rays, gamma rays, thermal radiation, and cosmic rays.  OSO 3 was the first orbiting observatory to detect an extrasolar X-ray source.  This was Scorpius X-1, a neutron star, and the strongest source of Earth-bound  x-rays aside from the Sun.

February 16 – Miranda

Also known as Uranus V, Miranda was discovered by Gerard P Kuiper on February 16th 1948, making it the last Uranian moon to be discovered by Earth-based observing equipment. We have some fairly good shots of Miranda’s southern hemisphere taken by Voyager 2, which paid a visit in 1986. These show this small moon (only one seventh the size of our own Moon) to be an interesting place, crossed by grooves and enormous canyons, some more than ten times deeper than the Grand Canyon. Miranda, in common with the other larger Uranian moons, is thought to be composed of mostly silicates and water ice.

Miranda (image credit: NASA)

Miranda (image credit: NASA)

Obviously there must always remain a degree of uncertainty regarding the composition of a place we’ve only been to once, rather fleetingly, for ‘Tis far off, and rather like a dream than an assurance (Act 1, Scene 2). Miranda is the only female character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

1880 – Asteroid 213 Lilaea discovered by C H F Peters. Lilaea is approximately 83 km across, has a year lasting four and a half Earth years, a day lasting just over 8 hours, and is named after a Naiad (water nymph).

1891305 Gordonia is a 49 km wide main belt asteroid, discovered by Auguste Charlois and named after his patron, James Gordon Bennett Jr, publisher of the New York Herald, and thought to be the man from whom we get the exclamation “Gordon Bennett!”.

1965 – launch of Pegasus 1, via Saturn I rocket number SA-9 from Cape Kennedy to study the effects of micrometeoroid impact, which it achieved by use of two giant wings, unfurled upon reaching orbit. Pegasus 1 remained operational until it was deactivated on August 29th 1968. It remained in orbit until 1978.

February 08 – 183 Istria and 283 Emma

Asteroid 283 Emma was spotted by Auguste Charlois on this very day in 1889. It’s a large main-belt asteroid about 150 to 160km wide (opinions vary). Emma has a tiny companion, as yet unnamed, so going by the designation S/2003 (283)  1, of about 10km diameter. Why the name Emma was chosen remains a mystery.

Exactly eleven years and one hundred discoveries earlier we have S-type asteroid 183 Istria, discovered on February 8th 1878 by Johann Palisa from his observatory at the city of Pula (on the Istrian peninsula).  Palisa was Austrian, and at that time Istria was part of the Austro- Hungarian Empire.

Pula, Istria.

Pula, Istria.

Asteroid Istria is about 35km in diameter, and has an absolute magnitude of 9.68. It takes 1702 Earth days to make one journey around the Sun, rotating once every 11.77 hours as it does so.

1907  ⇒  Asteroid 636 Erika discovered by Joel Hastings Metcalf, American astronomer, optical wizard and Unitarian minister.  Erika is a fairly ordinary size for the main belt, at about 74km diameter.

1974  ⇒  The last Skylab crew  (Gerrard P Carr, William R Pogue and Edward G Gibson) returns to Earth after their 84-day mission.