Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 22, 2014
Max Wolf

Max Wolf

December 22, 1891: 323 Brucia is discovered. It was the first asteroid to be found by means of astrophotography. It is part of the Main belt (the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is about 22.25 ± 1 miles across. It is also a Mars-crosser which means that the orbit of the asteroid crosses the orbit of Mars at some point. The body was discovered by Max Wolf and named in honor of Catherine Wolfe Bruce, a patron of the science of astronomy. She had donated $10,000 for the construction of the telescope used by Wolf to find the asteroid.

Max Wolf was born in Heidelberg, Germany in 1863. His father was a medical doctor and encouraged an interest in the sciences. Wolf made his first astronomical discovery, comet 14P/Wolf, when he was just 21, four years before receiving his PhD from the University of Heidelberg. He went to study in Stockholm for a year and it was the only significant time he spent away from his home town. He returned and was made privat-docent in 1890. He was a popular lecturer and received offers from many other universities but declined them all. In 1902 Wolf was made Chair of Astronomy and Director of a newly built observatory at the University. He held these positions until his death, thirty years later.

On this day, he discovered 323 Brucia, his first asteroid. He went on to discover 247 more. Wolf was an early adopter of astrophotography. This specialized form of taking pictures of objects in the night sky began with a picture of the Moon taken in 1840. It wasn’t until later in the century when technology caught up with the idea, that detailed stellar photographs could be made. With the ability to picture the night sky has come images not only of the Moon, Sun, and local planets and objects within our own solar system, but we also have pictures of objects invisible to the human eye. With long time exposure possible, we have seen dim stars, nebulae, and galaxies.

Within our solar system is a mass of uncollected matter scattered between Mars and Jupiter called the Main belt. About half the mass of the entire asteroid belt is collected into the four largest bodies: Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea. Ceres is the only dwarf planet with a diameter of about 600 miles. The other three have a mean diameter of about 250 miles. The remaining material is scattered so thinly that our unmanned spacecraft have traversed the region without problem. Collisions between larger asteroids do take place and then they form an asteroid family where members have similar orbital characteristics. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of known asteroids and the total number is thought to be in the millions.

Astronomy? Impossible to understand and madness to investigate. – Sophocles

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day, but when I follow the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth; I ascend to Zeus himself to feast me on ambrosia, the food of the gods. – Ptolemy

The universe is then one, infinite, immobile. . . . It is not capable of comprehension and therefore is endless and limitless, and to that extent infintite and indeterminable, and consequently immobile. – Giordano Bruno

The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons. – Edwin P. Hubble

Also on this day: March to the Sea – In 1864, General Sherman finished his march into Savannah, Georgia.
First PM – In 1885, Ito Hirobumi became the first Prime Minister of Japan.
Fly Ash – In 2008, the TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant’s dike collapsed.
Under Water – In 1937, The Lincoln Tunnel in NYC was opened.


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