Friday, 18 October 2013

Star Gayzing: Out of This World 2

Today I begin a mini-series on the names of asteroids, a topic I first covered in January. Fortunately, there’s an inexhaustible supply of asteroids which are yet to be named, and several thousand of them get named each year. Here are some asteroids named after lgbt people. Some of the people have featured in previous blog articles.

Before listing them here’s a quick explanation on how asteroids get named. The earliest asteroids, as was the convention of the time, were named after mythological figures and gods. New asteroids are given an official serial number (in brackets below) once their orbits are calculated. The discoverer usually chooses the name. The International Astronomical Union now imposes rules which are applied to all new names, which are then made official when published in the Minor Planets Centre bulletins. Early asteroid names were published in other scientific papers and journals.

I’ve listed the asteroids in order of discovery, giving their name and number. This first batch were discovered before I was born. I’ve quoted from the official citations from the Minor Planets Centre bulletins where appropriate, and added further remarks.

(54) Alexandra           Discovered 10 Sept. 1858. Allegedly named after the German naturalist Alexander, Baron von Humboldt (1769-1859). It’s possible it was named in 1859 to mark Humboldt’s death, but I can’t understand why a female name was chosen. An asteroid discovered in 1973 is also named after him - Humboldt (4877).

(433) Eros      Discovered 13 Aug. 1898. Named after the Greek god of love, including gay love. Statues of Eros were often placed in gyms. Greek soldiers trained and made offerings and prayers to him in the hope of being a good fighter and good lover to young men. This belongs to a large group of asteroids which cross Earth’s orbit and may one day hit us.

(588) Achilles             Discovered 22 Feb. 1906. Named after the Greek hero of the Trojan War. It is acknowledged that he and fellow hero Patroclus were lovers. This was the first asteroid discovered in one of Jupiter’s Lagrange points. There are now over 5,000 similar asteroids, all named after characters from the Trojan War, hence they are collectively called Trojan asteroids.

(617) Patroclus          Discovered 17 Oct. 1906. Named after the Greek hero of the Trojan War. It is acknowledged that he and fellow hero Achilles were lovers. This was the first Trojan asteroid discovered in the Lagrange point behind Jupiter. Patroclus is actually a double asteroid – two asteroids of roughly the same size orbiting each other. The second one is named after Patroclus’s father.
(911) Agamemnon       Discovered 19 Mar. 1919. Named after the King of Argos and leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. Before the war he had a young boy lover called Argynnus. The boy drowned accidentally and Agamemnon built a shrine in his memory.

(1036) Ganymed        Discovered 23 Oct. 1924. Named after the Greek youth Ganymede, kidnapped by the god Zeus to be his lover and cup-bearer. To avoid confusion with Jupiter’s moon also named after the youth the final “e” was dropped. This is the largest asteroid which crosses Earth’s orbit.

(1862) Apollo             Discovered 24 Apr. 1932. Named after the Greek god of light, prophecy, healing, music and sport. He had many male, as well as female, lovers, the most famous being Hyakinthos. This asteroid was “lost” and not rediscovered until 1973. It was the first asteroid discovered to cross the Earth’s orbit and may one day crash into it.

(7042) Carver             Discovered 24 Mar. 1933. Name published 27 Sept 1996. “Named in memory of George Washington Carver (1860-1943), credited by many as the first black American scientist. Born into slavery, he was largely self-educated, but he earned a master’s degree in science in 1896 and devoted the remainder of his life to agricultural research... His scientific stature earned him election to the Royal Society in 1916, but Carver was also an outstanding teacher, artist and humanitarian…”


Asteroids that are not named after lgbt people but have lgbt links.

(1208) Troilus                        Discovered 31 Dec. 1931. Named after the legendary Prince of Troy. During the Trojan War the Greek hero Achilles (above) fell in love with this Trojan enemy. Troilus rejected the sexual advances and Achilles killed him (accidentally). None of the legends say if Troilus was ever interested in men.

So far one group of people seem to be missing from the world of asteroids – lgbt asteroid hunters and discovers. I’m sure there are some out there and that they’ve discovered lots of asteroids, but none of them are “out” enough for me to mention with certainty. Who knows? Perhaps next time I can.

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