Thursday, 30 June 2016

Star-Gayzing on Asteroid Day

Do you remember that fiery meteorite that flashed through the skies of Russia a couple of years ago? They are called meteorites, but they are also asteroids. It was one of many thousands of asteroids whose orbits cross ours. Another one crashed into the Sahara desert in 2008. And I mentioned yet another one last time in my solstice article. But perhaps the most famous modern incident of an asteroid impact is the Tunguska Event of 30 June 1908, another Russian impact. The old photos which show the flattened, stripped trees still provide haunting images of what might happened if the asteroid had crashed into a populated area.

There is always a danger of some significant impact from an asteroid yet to be discovered, which is one reason why Asteroid Day was created in 2014 on the anniversary of the Tunguska Event. It was the brainchild of Brian May, famous as a member of the rock band Queen and less famous as an astronomer, and Grigorij Richters, a film director who’s film “51 Degrees North” was about an asteroid impact on London. The aim of Asteroid Day is to raise awareness of the dangers of asteroid impact and the closer study of such asteroids.

This gives me the excuse to look at the asteroids with lgbt names again. First of all, I use the word asteroid most of the time, though the term minor planet is the more official one. So, what about those Earth-crossing asteroids, the ones who may eventually hit us? How many of them are named after members of the lgbt community?

Most important of them all is an asteroid after which a whole group has been named, asteroid 1862 Apollo (the numbers preceding the names are the official asteroid numbers). The Greek god Apollo makes a regular appearance on this blog because of various same-sex aspects of his legends (again, he was mentioned in connection to the summer solstice a couple of days ago).

A lot of the Earth-crossing asteroids are named after Greek gods and heroes, all of whom are assumed to have engaged in the customary practice of taking young male lovers during their years of training. There are asteroids named after Adonis, Bacchus, Daedalus, Dionysus, Hephaistos, Heracles, Hermes, Hypnos, Icarus, Jason, Midas, Minos, Morpheus, Orpheus, Pan, Poseidon, Zephyr and Zeus. Several of these gods and heroes have appeared on this blog before.

Only one of the Earth-crossing asteroids has been named after a real lgbt person, (1863) Antinous, named after the partner of the Emperor Hadrian and who once had a constellation named after him.

Now for the update on previous lists. As in previous lists these asteroids belong to various groups, not just the Apollo Earth-crossers. As before I’ll give them in order of discovery, followed by their official number and name, date of discovery, then by part of the official citation, and finally any information on the lgbt connection. I’ve linked some back to articles I’ve written about them in the past.

(1208) Troilus                        Discovered 31 Dec 1931. “Named for the son of Priam (asteroid 884) who in a medieval legend loved Cressida (asteroid 548) and lost her to Diomedes (asteroid 1437). Troilus was killed by Achilles (asteroid 588).” Achilles was attracted to the handsome young Prince Troilus, though whether he was able to have any physical relationship is not made clear in the ancient legends.

(5451) Plato    Discovered 24 Sept. 1960. “Named after Plato (c. 428-348 BC), the most famous pupil of Sokrates (asteroid 5450). He was the founder of the philosophical Academy near Athens, which existed for over 900 years. His preserved papers were written in dialogue form as the ‘lessons’ of Sokrates. His philosophy has strongly influenced the western world to the present day. Plato is also honoured by a lunar crater.” Even though the idea of a non-sexual relationship is termed platonic after Plato, ancient sources also record his same-sex partners.

(12154) Callimachus             Discovered 26 March 1971. “Callimachus of Cyrene (c.305–c.240 BC) was a Hellenistic scholar and poet who worked in Alexandria, where he compiled a catalogue of the famous library. He wrote the poem “Coma Berenices” commemorating the creation of the eponymous constellation by Conon of Samos in 246 BC.” Callimachus was one of the most influential of the Greek poets, and his writing often describes boy-love and offer hints to a same-sex relationship with Theocritus, another Greek poet.

(8621) Jimparsons    Discovered 1 March 1981. “American actor James Joseph ‘Jim’ Parsons (b.1973) portrays the fictional Caltech theoretical physicist Dr. Sheldon Lee Cooper in the television sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory’.”

(4570) Runcorn         Discovered 14 Aug. 1985. “Named in memory of Stanley Keith Runcorn (1922-1985), British geophysicist. Runcorn’s research centred on the magnetic properties of rocks. He used their palaeomagnetic signatures to make an important contribution to the emerging theory of plate tectonics, and he also studied the magnetism of the Moon, convection in planetary interiors, and geomagnetic polarity reversals. For many years head of the department of physics at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Runcorn was celebrated for his organisation of his NATO-sponsored international scientific discussion meetings.”

(6639) Marchis      Discovered 25 Sept. 1989. “Franck Marchis (b.1973) exploited the high-resolution capabilities offered by adaptive optics from ground-based telescopes to survey hundreds of main-belt minor planets and Trojans. In 2004 he led the team that discovered (87) Sylvia II (Remus), the only case where a main-belt object is known to have a second satellite.”  STOP PRESS : Two days ago (28 June 2016) the Czech Supreme Court finally overturned the ban on lgbt couples and individuals adopting children. The case of Franck Marchis and Jindra Vackar was the one which pioneered the ruling.

(5190) Fry       Discovered 16 Oct. 1990. “Stephen Fry (b.1957) is an English writer, actor, comedian, TV presenter and activist. He studied English Literature at Cambridge University, where he was very active in the Cambridge Footlights. Fry is the long-time host of the BBC comedy quiz show ‘QI’.”

(10211) La Spezia      Discovered 6 Sept. 1997. “La Spezia is a town near the Monte Viseggi Observatory. It is famous for its Poets’ Gulf, in honour of the 19th-century English poets Byron (asteroid 3306) and Shelley, who lived, loved and died in Italy, the country of their adoption.”

(22788) von Steuben             Discovered 15 May 1999. “A Prussian military officer, Friedrich Wilhelm Augustin Ludolf Gerhard von Steuben (1730–1794), taught standards of military drill and discipline to the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Steuben Day parades (September) in New York and other American cities celebrate German culture.” Von Steuben was unmarried and recent research suggests very heavily that he was gay. Many people, including the family of President John Adams, considered him to be gay. For the founding father of the US military, this makes the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that the States had for so many years somewhat hypocritical.

END NOTE: I mentioned Asteroid Day being founded by Grigorij Richters and Brian May. While neither of them are lgbt you might be interested to known that the most recent published list of new asteroid names (5 June 2015) includes one named after Richters. Brian May, incidentally, had an asteroid named after him in 2008.

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