Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Madrasi discovers a Minor Planet!

One of the things I miss most in Bangalore is a clear sky! Light pollution has taken away the sky I thought was my inalienable right! So, I was jealous of the guy in Chennai who discovered what he called a minor planet in his publication. The Madras Observatory from where he discovered this astronomical object is within walking distance of the house I grew up in – it is in Nungambakkam!
Let me now confess a few liberties I have taken with the truth! The incident did not take place Chennai, but in what was then propahly called Madras! I should have said “discovered” rather than “discovers” in my title! Lastly, my Madrasi who lived thirty years in Madras and died in the same city would be called an Englishman by some chauvinists! My hero is Mr N. R. Pogson ( ). He discovered eight asteroids and six variable stars.

I got to know of him today, when I did a web search to see if there are cases of asteroids known which have their own satellites! Sure there are! This makes me hope secretly that 2012_DA14 which is going to whizz by on the night of Feb 15, 2013 will have a few satellites too! See my post wondering if stuff accompanying DA14 could enter the atmosphere and give us a great fire-works display.

Mr Pogson reported the discovery of what he called a minor planet that he named Sylvia, in 1866! Refer
Pogson, N. R. (1866), Minor Planet (87) Sylvia, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 26, p. 311 (June 1866).
Is Sylvia a minor planet or a mere asteroid? I will let you search for and find the answer. Suffice it to say that it is about 286 KM in “diameter”. What attracted my attention was the fact much later, other observers discovered that Sylvia had two moons – which were named Romulus and Remus. The babies are not puny either – each one has a mass of about 10 to the power of 12 tons! The big brother Romulus goes as far as 1356 Km from its parent during its orbit.
Now tell me! Is there a chance we will see some fireworks when DA14 does a fly -past?  

Srinivasan Ramani

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