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.


March 04 – Messier 85

1781  –  Messier 85, a lenticular (elliptical if you prefer) galaxy, was discovered on this day in 1781 by Pierre Méchain.  It can be found in the constellation Coma Berenices (named after the Egyptian queen Berenice II) and is about 60 million light years away, making it the northernmost galaxy in the Virgo Cluster, a collection of somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 galaxies, on the periphery of which is our own local group.

M85 (image credit: NOAO / AURA / NSF)

M85 (image credit: NOAO / AURA / NSF)

There are hundreds of beautiful photographs of all manner of galaxies on the internet, but M85 is very under-represented by legal entities with relaxed media sharing policies, hence the above.

1861  –  Asteroid 64 Angelina discovered from Marseilles by Ernst Tempel.  Angelina is an E-type (containing enstatite) with a very high albedo (0.28) compared to many other asteroids.  It is named after an astronomical station operated by the Hungarian astronomer Franz Xaver von Zach.  For discovering Angelina (and 65 Cybele) Tempel received the ‘Lalande Prize’ from the French Académie des sciences.

1892  –  M-type (mainly metallic) main belt asteroid 325 Heidelberga was discovered today by Max Wolf.  If you’ve been following these pages closely the choice of name should come as no surprise, being the location of most, if not all, of Wolf’s discoveries. Heidelberga is reasonably large, at approximately 75 km in diameter.  Fuller details of Heidelberga’s physical and orbital characteristics can be found in the NASA JPL Small-Body Database browser.

1904  –  Birth of George Gamow, cosmologist, and early champion of the Big Bang theory.

1923  –  Birthday of Patrick Moore, amateur astronomer extraordinaire.

This post originally appeared in 2015, and was slightly updated in 2017.


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.


June 21 – OSO-8

OSO-8 (known as OSO-I until launch) was the eighth Orbiting Solar Observatory launched by NASA.  Lift-off was by a Delta 1910 launch vehicle on June 21st 1975.  OSO-8 lived until October 1st 1978.



I love these 1960′s and 1970′s NASA artists impressions.  Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t give you any idea of the scale; it looks like it might have been free in a box of corn flakes.  To give you an idea, the “wheel” section at the bottom is about 6 feet across.  And it spins!  It’s like something Gerry Anderson would invent for “UFO”.

As well as being a solar observatory, there were four other experiments on board to study cosmic rays.  Highlights of the mission include the detection of black body spectra for X-ray bursts, and iron line detection in the X-ray spectra of a cluster of galaxies.


1863  –  Where would I be without this guy?  German astronomer and astrophotographer Max Wolf was born today in 1863, and as any regular visitor to this site will know, he was a phenomenal discoverer of asteroids, with an enormous 248 finds, from 323 Brucia on December 22nd 1891 (named after an American patron of astronomy), to 5926 Schönfeld (a German astronomer) on August 4th 1929.

Keen eyed astronomer, Max Wolf.

Keen eyed astronomer, Max Wolf.

Wolf was also a noted spotter of comets, and was the first person to see Halley’s Comet in 1910.

April 20 – 532 Herculina

Asteroid 532 Herculina was discovered this very day in 1904 by Max Wolf, born 21/06/1867 in Heidelberg, studied at Heidelberg, Chair of Astronomy at Heidelberg, died 03/10/1932…  Can you guess where?

Wolf discovered a phenomenal 248 asteroids, presumably in the time he saved by not bothering to leave Heidelberg.  Herculina was his 9th of 1904, a year in which he was finding the critters at about one every three weeks.

Heidelberg Resident, Max Wolf.

Heidelberg Resident, Max Wolf.

With a diameter of 225 km, Herculina is one of the larger main belt asteroids, probably in the top 20.  It has a nicely elliptical orbit which takes it from 2.3 to 3.26 AU from the Sun.

For a while Herculina was suspected to have a “moon”, following observations made in the 1970′s, but further studies have failed to find it.  And that’s also pretty much the story of my attempt to find the location from whence was plucked the name.  Herculina doesn’t appear to be anyone or anywhere in particular.  Wolf’s previous asteroid, 531 Zerlina, is a character from Don Giovanni, and his next one, 539 Pamina, is from The Magic Flute.  But Herculina is a mystery.

1903  –  Discovery of asteroid 508 Princetonia.

March 26 – Explorer 3

Explorer 3 was launched on March 26th 1958 from Cape Canaveral, using a Juno I four stage launcher, the same rocket that had been used to launch (successfully) Explorer 1 and (less than successfully) Explorer 2.

Explorer 3 (probably)

Explorer 3 (probably)

Explorer 3 looked almost exactly like Explorer 1, hence the non-committal title of the above photograph, and had the same task, to explore the Earth’s radiation belts.  Those whip-like things sticking out from the body are transmitting antennae, kept extended by the rotation of the satellite.

Asteroid 561 Ingwelde discovered by Max Wolf in 1905. The prevailing view seems to be that Ingwelde was named after the opera by Max von Schillings. I’m inclined to agree, as the opera had been doing the rounds in the years leading up to 1905. Following its premiere in Karlsruhe (1894) it had been revived in Munich in 1896, directed by no less a person than Richard Strauss (albeit for only three performances).

March 01 – Asteroids-R-Us

1854  –  28 Bellona and 29 Amphitrite

Asteroid 28 Bellona was discovered by Robert Luther on March 1st 1854, three weeks before the start of the Crimean War, so the name was chosen to be topical (Bellona was a Roman goddess of war).   Bellona is a large S-type asteroid of somewhere between 110 and 120km across.

An even larger S-type asteroid, at over 200km wide, is 29 Amphitrite, discovered on the same day, several hundred miles from Luther in Regent’s Park, London, by another German astronomer, Albert Marth.  Marth was working at the time for George Bishop, the owner of a private observatory in the park.  Bishop chose the name.  Amphitrite was Marth’s only asteroid, but John Russell Hind, who we meet in these pages every so often, used Bishop’s 7″ refractor to greater effect to discover ten asteroids between 1847 and 1854.  Unfortunately the observatory is no longer in Regent’s Park; the telescope was moved to his son’s residence in Twickenham after Bishop’s death, and then donated to an Italian Observatory.

In ancient Greek mythology, Amphitrite was a Nereid, and wife of Poseidon.

1878  –  185 Eunike

185 Eunike is a dark, large, carbonaceous main-belt asteroid, approximately 157 kilometres in diameter. It was discovered on March 1st, 1878 by Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters, and named, in a politically motivated fashion after yet another Nereid, Eunike, whose name means ‘happy victory’.  This is a reference to the Treaty of San Stefano, signed on March 3rd 1878 between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Russo-Turkish War. The treaty led to the creation of an autonomous Bulgaria, became the central point of Bulgarian foreign policy, lasting until 1944, and led to the Second Balkan War and Bulgaria’s entry into World War I.

1891  –  306 Unitas

306 Unitas is another main belt asteroid, discovered by Elia Millosevich on March 1st, 1891. in Rome, and named by the director of the Modena Observatory in honor of the Italian astronomer Angelo Secchi.  It is classified as an S-type asteroid.  Unitas has a similar orbit to the Vesta family, but has been found to be unrelated to them.

1894  –  385 Ilmatar and 386 Siegena

385 Ilmatar is a large main belt asteroid discovered by Max Wolf on this day in 1894.  Ilmatar is the virgin spirit of the air in Finnish mythology.

Ilmatar (R W Ekman)

Ilmatar (R W Ekman)

386 Siegena is another large, C-type asteroid.  It, too, was discovered by Max Wolf in 1894.  It is named after the city of Siegen in Germany.


February 13 – asteroid 473 Nolli

Asteroid 473 Nolli is a fairly obscure beast. I thought I was doing a pretty darn good job at hiding my blog from the world, but if I ever wore a hat (I don’t: I look even more ridiculous in one) I would have to take it off to Nolli, for remaining in hiding for a length of time that would even give Lord Lucan a run for his money.

Discovered by Max Wolf on February 13th 1901, Nolli was then not seen again until 1987. It is of unknown size (it is thought to be in the range 10 to 20 km diameter) and of unknown spectral class. It may or may not be a member of the Eunomia family, but we aren’t sure yet. We do know the orbital characteristics, though; but not the albedo or rotation period.

We also know where the name Nolli came from. It is a pet name of one of the children in the Wolf household. I’m not sure which one, though, as their names were Franz, Ernst and Werner.


Aphelion (2006 03 06) 2.946 AU
Perihelion 2.383 AU
Semi-major Axis 2.664 AU
Orbital Period 1588.361 days
Eccentricity 0.106
Average Orbital Speed 18.2 km/s
Inclination 12.91°
Mean Anomoly 85.936°
Longitude of Ascending Node 332.405°
Argument of Perihelion 153.614°

On the same day he discovered Nolli, Wolf also found the next asteroid in the list, 474 Prudentia. We don’t know a great deal more about this one either. Prudentia is about 37 km in diameter, and has an absolute magnitude of 10.6. As far as composition goes though, it’s still an unknown quantity, which has led it to be classified as an X type, the name signifying that the chemical make-up of the asteroid can’t be determined by analysis of the visible wavelength.

The name Prudentia is, obviously, the Latin form of Prudence. Prudence is, as I’m sure we have all been told at some point, a virtue, making her one of the seven virtues first identified by Greek philosophers, then taken up by Christians as a set of desirable character traits. virtues are split into two groups: the older cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) and the newer theological virtues of St Paul (faith, hope and charity/love).

Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence

We have an engraving for you today. It is by the Italian abbot and artist Pietro Antonio Pazzi, and dates from 1762. It depicts Prudentia as envisaged by Domenico Zampieri in the frescoes he painted for the Abbey of Grottaferrata (a small town to the south east of Rome).

January 18 – Asteroid 221 Eos

221 Eos is a K class (more about this in a minute) main belt asteroid discovered by Johann Palisa on January 18th 1882. It’s about 100 km wide, weighs in at a healthy six million trillion tonnes (give or take a few hundred thousand) and is quite dim at magnitude 7.67.

Eos lends its name to an extensive family of asteroids, all sharing roughly similar orbits, and all thought to have originated from an almighty collision some time in the distant past, which the latest best guesses put at around a billion years ago. About 300 members of the family are known, all being similar to S-types, but not identical, so they get their own category, the aforementioned K-type.



Eos was named after the Greek goddess of the dawn, shown above in her winged chariot.

Also today, asteroid 468 Lina, a member of the Themis family, was discovered today in 1901 by Max Wolf and named after the family housemaid. It’s probably best if I don’t speculate as to why that might be.


January 09 – Asteroid 464 Megaira

Asteroid 464 Megaira was discovered on January 9th 1901 by Max Wolf, a pioneer of astrophotography, and a man with an enormous 248 asteroid discoveries to his name.  It is approximately 80 km in diameter, and was the first minor planet to be discovered in the twentieth century.

The name of today’s rock comes from the Greek Megaera, one of the three Eumenides (“Furies”), who were born out of the blood of Uranus when Cronos castrated him.  Her name means “the jealous one”.

The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau - 1862

The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau – 1862

Her sisters had similarly jolly names: Tisiphone (“Avenging Murder”) and Alecto (“Unceasing Anger”).  It was considered unlucky to mention their name in Greek society, so they often went by ironic pseudonyms (Euripides refers to them as the “Kindly Ones”).

Wolf was on a roll this month and went on to name the next two asteroids he discovered after the remaining Eumenides (465 Alekto, discovered on Jan 13th 1901, and 466 Tisiphone, 4 days later).