February 13 – Discovery of asteroid 473 Nolli (1901)

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.  She was the sister of Helios (Sun) and Selene (Moon) and it was her job to open up heaven in the morning so that Helios could do his thing.

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 (1901)

Asteroid 464 Megaira (originally designated as 1901 FV) was discovered on January 9th 1901 by Max Wolf (1863-1932), 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 1901. Only 17 asteroids were discovered in total in 1901, illustrating how much harder it was back then. By 1921 the annual haul had just managed crawled up to 27, but in the 2000’s asteroids are being discovered at rates of several thousand a year.

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).

September 26 – Discovery of Asteroid 610 Valeska (1906)

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, although it points out that the provisional discovery designation was “1906 VK”, and the letters v and k are prominent in the chosen name. 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.

June 04 – 456 Abnoba

Main belt asteroid 456 Abnoba was discovered on June 4th, 1900, by Max Wolf and F K A Schwassmann. It is an S-type asteroid of approximately 400m diameter,  and the JPL Small Body Database tells me it has an absolute magnitude of 9.1 and a rotation period of 18.281 hours.

Max Wolf
Arnold Schwassmann

Abnoba was a Celtic / Gaulish (I had to override the spellchecker here, to remove the word ‘goulash’) goddess of the hunt, worshipped principally in the Black Forest area, and associated with the Roman goddess Diana. She was also a goddess of waterways, and it is probable that her name is derived from the same Celtic root, abon, as the Welsh word for river, afon, and the name of a famous English river, the Avon.

Today’s final image shows an altar dedicated to Diana Abnoba from the Badenweiler Roman Baths, Germany. (Image: Wikimedia Commons).  The popular spa resort of Badenweiler was where the playwright Anton Chekhov arrived in June 1903 to help ease the symptoms of his tuberculosis.  He died there on July 15th 1904.

If you’re now in the mood for a goulash goddess, there’s a recipe on Nigella Lawson‘s website.


May 22 – Discovery of Asteroid 41 Daphne

Asteroid 41 Daphne was discovered on May 22nd 1856 by Hermann Goldschmidt. It is a C-type (i.e. dark and mostly carbon), main belt asteroid, orbiting in 9:22 mean orbital resonance with Mars, meaning that every 9 times Daphne orbits the Sun (about 15,113 days) Mars goes round almost exactly 22 times, which is the same distance.

Daphne was a nymph who attracted the attention of the god Apollo. She wasn’t keen on his advances, though, and pleaded for help to her father, a river god. His bizarre solution to her problem was to turn his daughter into a laurel tree.

Apollo and Daphne, by Veronese.
Apollo and Daphne, by Veronese.

Asteroid 41 Daphne has a satellite, S/2008 (41) 1, named Peneius, after the river god mentioned above, discovered on March 28, 2008. Peneius orbits Daphne every 1.1 days.

Thomas Gold was born on this day in 1920. Gold was an Austrian-born astrophysicist, proponent of the steady state theory of the universe, whose family fled to Britain when the Germans invaded (his father was a wealthy Jewish industrialist) . The British government, compassionate and understanding as always, had him thrown into an internment camp as an enemy alien for the first two years of the war, but later relented and put him to work on radar development.

1900 – Asteroid 455 Bruchsalia was discovered by Max Wolf. It sounds like it might be an Italian sandwich, but this main belt asteroid is actually named after the German city of Bruschal.

Last updated May 09, 2019.

May 09 – Discovery of Asteroid 564 Dudu

Asteroid 564 Dudu was discovered on May 9th, 1905 by Paul Götz at Heidelberg, a hotbed of minor planet detecting at the time. Dudu is in the main belt, and measures about 49 to 50 km across.

Friedrich Nietzsche (from the title page of the first edition of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra')
Friedrich Nietzsche (from the first edition of ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’)

The name Dudu comes from that of a fictional cat in Also Sprach Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, a work in which humans are seen as being at a halfway stage between apes and super- or over-humans. Nietzsche obviously never watched Britain’s Got Talent.

Also today we have asteroid 565 Marbachia, discovered by Max Wolf, himself a veritable übermensch among asteroid hunters. Marbachia (named after Marbach, Germany) was also discovered at Heidelberg, possibly on the same telescope as Dudu.

Last updated: May 07, 2019.

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.