In 1800 a group of astronomers in Germany formed a society to hunt for an undiscovered planet thought to be situated between the orbits of mars and Jupiter. They called themselves the Celestial Police. The police did not make the first"arrest"- the first asteroid, Italian Giuesppe Piazzi discovered Ceres, in 1801. The police discovered three asteroids ( Pallas, Juno, and Vesta) between 1802 and 1807, and finally disbanded in 1815. The next asteroid was not found until 1845.
The brightest asteroid is called Vesta. It was a diameter of 335 miles (540km) and is the only asteroid visible to the unaided eye.
When an asteroid is discovered, it is given an identification number. Then the discoverer of the asteroid is allowed the honour of naming it. Over the years, asteroids have been named after a calculator (asteroid 1625, the NORC, or Naval Ordnance Research Calculator at Dahlgren, Virginia), musical plays (1047 the Geisha), shipping lines (724 Hapag, or Hamburg Amerika Line ), flowers (978 Petunia), and a sweet that the discoverer was fond of (518 Halawa , an Arabian sweet ). IN 1937 the tiny asteroid Hermes passed uncomfortably close to the earth at a distance of less than twice that of the moon.
French astronomer Charles Messier spent a lifetime hunting for comets. He claimed to have discovered 21 of them. King Louis XV of France called him "Comet Ferret" . Messier is best known today for a catalog published in 1781 listing over 100 dim, hazy nebulae- objects to avoid when a comet hunting.
Portuguese wine bottled in 1811 is called "Comet Wine" . Its excellent quality is believed to be due to the Great Comet of that year. The term " Comet Wine" is often used for any wine made in the year of an important comet.
Comets speed up as they approach the Sun 's endash sometimes reaching speeds of over a million-mph (1.6 million km/h). Far away from the Sun, speeds drop, perhaps down to as little as 700mph (1,125 km/h). The earth' s most frequent visitor is Encke' s comet, which returns to our planet each 1,206 days. It has been seen 54 times, but is growing increasingly faint. It is expected to have completely faded by February 1994, its next scheduled returns.
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