October 21 – Asteroid 76 Freia

Today we say hello to 76 Freia, a large, dark, main belt asteroid, discovered on this day in 1862 by an extremely occasional visitor to these pages, the German astronomer Heinrich d’Arrest (this is his only asteroid discovery).  Freia is a member of the Cybele group of asteroids, in the outer reaches of the main belt.  They are thought to be the remnants of a large object which broke up some time long ago.

Freia (by Carl Emil Doepler, 1824-1905).
Freia (by Carl Emil Doepler, 1824-1905).

The goddess Freyja, after whom you have probably deduced this asteroid is named, is a typically strange member of the Norse deities.  She drove a chariot drawn by cats, and was seldom seen in public without her sidekick, a boar called Hildisvini, which she would also ride when her pussy wagon wasn’t available.

Freyja, possibly meaning “lady” (as in the German frau) is goddess of love, sexuality and fertility, and it is thought by some that she and Frigg (whom we may well meet on November 12 under the guise of the splendidly-named asteroid 77 Frigga) derive from a common Germanic predecessor.

1879  ⇒   Asteroid 208 Lacrimosa discovered by Johann Palissa.

1967  ⇒  Death of Ejnar Hertzsprung.


October 08 – Ejnar Hertzsprung

Today is the birthday of Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung, born in Copenhagen in 1873.  He was co-developer of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, the scatter graph of choice for anyone wanting to get a grip on stellar evolution.

Hertzsprung discovered two asteroids from the Union Observatory in Johannesburg: a main belter called 1702 Kalahari, and a large* near-Earth “Mars crosser” called 1627 Ivar.  The naming of Kalahari is fairly self-explanatory, given the location of its discovery.  But Ivar is more mysterious.  There are many Ivar’s out there.  Most of the famous ones are Norwegian, but none springs out as the obvious candidate for this happy event.

*  –  My use of the word “large”, by the way, is relative.  1627 Ivar is 9 km wide, which would make it tiny in the main belt, but is very large for a neighbour of this planet.

Copenhagen's most famous resident (photo: me).
Copenhagen’s most famous resident (photo: me).

Unless you’ve been to Copenhagen, you have no idea how hard it is to take a photograph of the mermaid without a hundred or more heads in front of it.

1879  –  S-type asteroid 204 Kallisto discovered by Johann Palissa.

1887  –  Asteroid 270 Anahita discovered by C H F Peters.