Goddesses Give Way To Saints

Meaux Vitrail 1867 30808 2.jpgFor nearly a century, pagan figures ruled the asteroid belt. Astronomers naming the small worlds between Mars and Jupiter looked to the tradition of naming the planets. If Greek and Roman pagan religion inspired solar system labels, why not extend the same tradition to the new discoveries of the nineteenth century? Ceres, Pallas, Juno, and Vesta led the way.

As dozens more minor planets were spied and catalogued, you can imagine science had to go pretty deep into minor figures of mythology. A few scientists suggested alternatives. There was resistance to bucking tradition at first. But the establishment eventually caved.

Two trivia questions for you: how long did it take before a Christian saint lent a name to a solar system object? Who got the honor?

Potw1749a Julia crop.pngMeet Julia, right. Named for Saint Julia of Corsica, the patron of the island to the south of the French mainland, above. From my quick perusal of the minor planet index, I think she is the first saint in the asteroid belt. Discovery year is 1866.

Astronomers think they’ve identified a crater, which they’ve named Nonza, for the saint’s birthplace.

Julia continued another tradition, naming these bodies for women, mostly. The decade prior someone wanted to name a discovery Alexander, they altered the suggestion to the feminine version of the name. These days, almost anything goes. Celebrities, athletes, even fictional characters from tv.

One of my favorites is minor planet 51599, which shares a name with the young miss. No asteroid has yet to be named the same as my wife.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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