Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 29, 2011

Vesta, Ceres and Earth's Moon shown to scale

March 29, 1807:  The only asteroid visible to the naked eye is spied by Heinrich Wilhem Olbers from Bremen, Germany. Olbers  was trained as a physician and practiced medicine by day. But at night, he turned to the sky. He built an observatory in the upper story of his house to facilitate his hobby. He also was the first to come up with a satisfactory way to calculate cometary orbits. On March 28, 1802, he discovered an asteroid which he named Pallas. Olbers did not use the name “asteroid” for his discovery as this had not yet been coined, but instead used the term “minor planet.”

When he discovered a second asteroid five years later, he allowed Carl Friedrich Gauss to name it. Gauss chose the name Vesta. Ceres was the first asteroid to be discovered and was found in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi. It is the largest of the asteroids measuring about 590 miles in diameter. Even though the largest dwarf planet, containing about one-third of the total material of the asteroid belt, it is too dim to be seen with the naked eye. Olbers concluded, after finding another minor planet, that the asteroid belt existed and contained pieces of a planet that had been destroyed.

Vesta is smaller than Ceres with a mean diameter of 330 miles. The mostly-ovoid planet contains about 9% of the asteroid belt’s matter and is only 28% as massive as Ceres. However, it is closer to Earth. About a billion years ago, Vesta was in a collision and lost about 1% of its mass. The debris from this event has fallen to Earth as Howardite-Eucrite-Diogenite meteorites and given us much information concerning the asteroid belt.

The asteroid belt is a region of the Solar System between Mars and Jupiter. Most of the rock and ice found there are irregularly shaped asteroids. The four largest bodies [Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, and Hygiea] contain more than half of the matter in the belt. While other areas in the Solar System were managing to form into planets, the material in this region was so affected by Jupiter’s gravitational pull that the material held too much energy to stick together or accrete. Instead, the material was too violent and as collisions occurred, the protoplanet shattered.

“Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.” – Mark Twain

“This planet is 15 million years overdue for an asteroid strike like the one that killed the dinosaurs.” – L. Neil Smith

“I despise the Lottery. There’s less chance of you becoming a millionaire than there is of getting hit on the head by a passing asteroid. – Brian May

“What happens if a big asteroid hits Earth? Judging from realistic simulations involving a sledge hammer and a common laboratory frog, we can assume it will be pretty bad.” – Dave Barry

Also on this day:
Rationing – In 1948, rationing of items increased to include more food products.
Iced over Niagara Falls – 1848, Niagara Falls stops running.

Tagged with: ,