Big four asteroids

(ORDO NEWS) — In Palermo, on about. Sicily, Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi, director of the observatory, has been observing the positions of stars for many years to compile a star catalog. The work was nearing completion.

On the first evening of the 19th century, January 1, 1801, Piazzi discovered in the constellation Gemini a faint star, with a magnitude of about 7m, which for some reason was not in his own catalog, nor in the catalog of Christian Mayer, which Piazzi had at his disposal.

The next evening it turned out that the asterisk did not have the same coordinates as the day before: it had shifted 4″ in right ascension and 3.5″ in declination.

On the third night, it turned out that there was no mistake and that the star was slowly moving across the sky. Piazzi followed the strange star for six weeks. Not the disk that the planet was supposed to have, not the hazy appearance of comets!

For almost two weeks, the movement of the object was backward (it moved among the stars to the west), on January 12 it seemed to freeze in place, and then changed its movement to a direct one (to the east). This behavior is typical for planets.

In six weeks, the object has shifted a total of 4o, but its appearance has remained unchanged. The object seemed to Piazzi more and more interesting. But the observation was interrupted by illness. Having recovered, Piazzi could no longer find him. Continually moving, the object was lost among the faint stars.

At this time, 23-year-old, still unknown to anyone, Carl Friedrich Gauss became interested in creating methods for processing astronomical observations. He decided to try to determine the elliptical orbit of the new planet from the available data.

To do this, he had to develop a new method, which glorified Gauss and is now known in celestial mechanics as the method of determining an elliptical orbit from three observations.

Combining the results of all observations using the least-squares method he had created somewhat earlier, Gauss determined that the object’s orbit lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and that its major semi-axis (2.8 AU) exactly coincides with the value predicted by Titius’s law – Bode.

There was no doubt: it was the desired planet. Now, using the known orbit, Gauss calculated the further path of the object in the sky (emefridus).

The new planet had to be given a name. Piazzi suggested the name Ceres to Ferdinand, dedicating the planet to his king. But it hasn’t been without controversy. Napoleon believed that the planet should be named Juno. Lalande, who, by the way, was Piazzi’s teacher, suggested naming her after his worthy student. The name Ceres has been preserved.

The new planet took, as if, an equal position among the rest, to the delight of astronomers, filling the gap between Mars and Jupiter. And yet it was clear that Ceres had deceived the hopes of astronomers. Those who hoped to find a large planet between Jupiter and Mars were disappointed.

Ceres, like the rest of the planets, was cold and shone with reflected sunlight. But how weak was that light! Venus and Jupiter shone hundreds of times brighter.

It was weaker than the more distant Uranus, and its disk could not be seen in the best telescopes of that time, the reflectors of William Herschel. This meant one thing: Ceres is very small in size. A tiny planet moved between Mars and Jupiter.

In Berlin, Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers, a German physician and astronomer, a member of the Paris Academy of Sciences, a member of the Royal Society of London and head of the Berlin Observatory, closely followed the movement of Ceres.

On March 28, 1802, he unexpectedly discovered one more, but weaker planet (about 9m) not far from it. Olbers gave her the name Pallas, in honor of Pallas Athena.

Not only did Pallas also move at a distance of 2.8 AU. from the Sun, already occupied by Ceres, its orbit, moreover, strongly deviated from the plane of the ecliptic (by 35o). Why were there two tiny planets, instead of one large one, at a distance predicted by the Titius-Bode law?

“Where is that beautiful regular order that the planets obeyed in their distances?” Olbert lamented in a letter to Bode. It seems to me that it is too early to philosophize about this; we must first observe and determine the orbits in order to have the right foundations for our assumptions.

Then, perhaps we will decide, or at least approximately find out, whether Ceres and Pallas always ran their orbits in a peaceful neighborhood, relatively one from the other, or both of them are only fragments, only fragments of the former large planet, which was blown up by some kind of catastrophe.

The location of the search for new asteroids has been localized. The third planet between Mars and Jupiter (about 8m) was discovered in the constellation Cetus. She was discovered by K. Harding in Lilienthal on September 1, 1804.

She was finally dedicated to Juno, again a Roman goddess. Further, on March 29, 1807, Olbers discovered the fourth planet (about 6m), named Vesta in honor of the Roman goddess of the hearth and fire. Vesta is the only asteroid that can sometimes be seen with the naked eye.

Despite their small size, Ceres, Pallas, Juno and Vesta began to be included in the general list of planets, although the need to somehow highlight them was felt from the very beginning. Piazzi suggested calling the new members of the solar system planetoids (i.e., planet-like), and Herschel asteroids (stellar-like) for their lack of a visible disk.

They were also called telescopic planets, since they were not visible to the naked eye. Currently, the term “asteroid” is used, but along with it there is another – “minor planet”.


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