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Happy Birthday to Heinrich Olbers, born October 11, 1758, who discovered the asteroids Vesta (top) and Pallas, the second and third asteroids discovered.  While trained in medicine, Olbers was an excellent astronomer, and on March 28, 1802 he discovered Pallas, which he named after the Ancient Greek goddess Pallas Athena.  He did not, however, identify his discovery as an asteroid, but rather as a minor planet.  When Olbers found Pallas, he was actually trying to relocate the dwarf planet Ceres, discovered the year before and also representing a mystery to astronomers as something sharing the characteristics of both planets and comets but also unlike both.  

The word asteroid was coined later that year in 1802 by English/German astronomer William Herschel by Anglicizing the Ancient Greek word αστερo-ειδης (astero-edeis), itself a combination of the word αστερ (aster star) and ειδος (eidos form). A musician and scientist, Herschel is known for discovering Uranus and its two moons as well as infrared radiation.   Despite his massive contribution to astronomy, including the discovery of a planet which he attempted to name the Georgian planet after King George III of England, the only word he contributed remains asteroid.  It was Olbers who first postulated on the existence of an ‘asteroid belt’, which he suggested was the remains of a destroyed planet.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014
No need to look out your window for this one-when astronomers say close, they mean that in astronomical terms.  In this case, asteroid 2014 HQ124 will pass by Earth at a distance of approximately 777,000 miles, or just over three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, and will travel at a speed of 30,000 miles per hour.  Known popularly as The Beast, this asteroid is over 1,100 feet across and would leave a crater several miles across if it impacted Earth.  Discovered on April 23, 2014, the discovery did not leave scientists with enough time to react IF the asteroid had been on a collision course.  The word asteroid was coined in 1802 by English astronomer William Herschel by Anglicizing the Ancient Greek word asteroeides, itself a combination of the word aster (star) and eidos (form). A musician and scientist, Herschel is known for discovering Uranus and its two moons as well as infrared radiation. He was also fascinated by binary and multiple star systems, expecting their movements (and parallax) to shed light on the size and nature of the universe; he tracked and cataloged over 800 systems over a 25 year period using a 6 inch telescope that he built himself. He was know to have had a hand in building over 400 telescopes during his long career, including several very large telescopes with which he performed ‘deep sky’ surveys, cataloging 2400 objects including many nebulae. Despite his massive contribution to astronomy, including the discovery of a planet which he attempted to name the Georgian planet after King George III of England, the only word he contributed remains asteroid.
For comparison, the meteor that crashed in Chelabinsk Russia last year was only 65 feet across…
Image of the path the asteroid known as the Beast courtesy NASA.

No need to look out your window for this one-when astronomers say close, they mean that in astronomical terms.  In this case, asteroid 2014 HQ124 will pass by Earth at a distance of approximately 777,000 miles, or just over three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, and will travel at a speed of 30,000 miles per hour.  Known popularly as The Beast, this asteroid is over 1,100 feet across and would leave a crater several miles across if it impacted Earth.  Discovered on April 23, 2014, the discovery did not leave scientists with enough time to react IF the asteroid had been on a collision course.  The word asteroid was coined in 1802 by English astronomer William Herschel by Anglicizing the Ancient Greek word asteroeides, itself a combination of the word aster (star) and eidos (form). A musician and scientist, Herschel is known for discovering Uranus and its two moons as well as infrared radiation. He was also fascinated by binary and multiple star systems, expecting their movements (and parallax) to shed light on the size and nature of the universe; he tracked and cataloged over 800 systems over a 25 year period using a 6 inch telescope that he built himself. He was know to have had a hand in building over 400 telescopes during his long career, including several very large telescopes with which he performed ‘deep sky’ surveys, cataloging 2400 objects including many nebulae. Despite his massive contribution to astronomy, including the discovery of a planet which he attempted to name the Georgian planet after King George III of England, the only word he contributed remains asteroid.

For comparison, the meteor that crashed in Chelabinsk Russia last year was only 65 feet across…

Image of the path the asteroid known as the Beast courtesy NASA.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The asteroid Lutetia lies almost directly in the plane of the ecliptic approximately 230 million miles from the sun, on average. It was discovered in 1852 by the German-French painter, astronomer and polymath Hermann Goldschmidt, who discovered it not long after purchasing a telescope he financed by selling paintings of Galileo produced on a recent trip to Florence. Although he originally believed that he had discovered a new planet, he soon confirmed that it was indeed an asteroid and named it after the Roman name for the city that eventually became Paris: Lutetia Parisiorum, named for the Gallic tribe the Parisii who first inhabited the island later known as Île de la Cité. In July of 2010 the French spacecraft the Rosetta passed approximately 1800 miles away from Lutetia and took several hundred high resolution photographs, mostly of the north pole of the asteroid. Lutetia is a medium sized asteroid, somewhat egg shaped, 100 kilometers in diameter and 120 kilometers in diameter along its longest axis. In March 2011 the International Astronomical Union agreed to a naming system for Lutetia’s features, allowing them to be named for regions, cities and rivers in Roman Gaul: Baetica, Achaia, Etruria, Narbonensis, Noricum, Pannonia, and Raetia.

Close up image of Lutetia and image of crater cluser on Lutetia by ESA 2011 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA. Orbit of Lutetia courtesy NASA/JPL, used with permission.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The asteroid Lutetia lies almost directly in the plane of the ecliptic approximately 230 million miles from the sun, on average. It was discovered in 1852 by the German-French painter, astronomer and polymath Hermann Goldschmidt, who discovered it not long after purchasing a telescope he financed by selling paintings of Galileo produced on a recent trip to Florence. Although he originally believed that he had discovered a new planet, he soon confirmed that it was indeed an asteroid and named it after the Roman name for the city that eventually became Paris: Lutetia Parisiorum, named for the Gallic tribe the Parisii who first inhabited the island later known as Île de la Cité.

In July of 2010 the French spacecraft the Rosetta passed approximately 1800 miles away from Lutetia and took several hundred high resolution photographs, mostly of the north pole of the asteroid. Lutetia is a medium sized asteroid, somewhat egg shaped, 100 kilometers in diameter and 120 kilometers in diameter along its longest axis. In March 2011 the International Astronomical Union agreed to a naming system for Lutetia’s features, allowing them to be named for regions, cities and rivers in Roman Gaul: Baetica, Achaia, Etruria, Narbonensis, Noricum, Pannonia, and Raetia.

Close up image of Lutetia and image of crater cluser on Lutetia by ESA 2011 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

Orbit of Lutetia courtesy NASA/JPL, used with permission.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The word asteroid was coined in 1802 by English astronomer William Herschel by Anglicizing the Ancient Greek word asteroeides, itself a combination of the word aster (star) and eidos (form). A musician and scientist, Herschel is known for discovering Uranus and its two moons as well as infrared radiation. He was also fascinated by binary and multiple star systems, expecting their movements (and parallax) to shed light on the size and nature of the universe; he tracked and cataloged over 800 systems over a 25 year period using a 6 inch telescope that he built himself. He was know to have had a hand in building over 400 telescopes during his long career, including several very large telescopes with which he performed ‘deep sky’ surveys, cataloging 2400 objects including many nebulae. Despite his massive contribution to astronomy, including the discovery of a planet which he attempted to name the Georgian planet after King George III of England, the only word he contributed remains asteroid. Today marks the closest passing of an asteroid in decades, the 2005 YU55, which came within 200,000 miles of Earth just a few hours ago.

Radar image of 2005 YU55 courtesy NASA/JPL/Caltech