How Did the First Asteroid Come to be Discovered?


Seth Guiñals-Kupperman

High School for Math, Science, & Engineering, Manhattan

Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

August 2008




Learning Objectives

Ø  Titius-Bode Law and its application to discovery of Asteroids


Minor Members of the Universe: Asteroids PowerPoint

Do Now (10 minutes)

Internet Research

1. How and When were the first asteroids discovered?

2. What was the name of the person that discovered them?

3. What “law” did he use to find the asteroids?

4. Where are asteroids found?

5. What are the names of the 4 largest asteroids?

6. By tradition who gets to name an asteroid?


Notes: Titus-Bode (15 minutes)


Celestial Police  1800 6 German astronomers looking for missing planet

In 1801 Giuseppe Piazzi of Sicily found a faint moving object which disappeared.

Karl Gauss came up with a way to predict orbits using only three data points.  He projected where the object would appear.

In Dec 1801 the object was sighted and called Ceres after the patron saint of Sicily.

Ceres: orbits the sun in 4.6 years at an orbit of 2.77 AU 918 km in diameter.

In March 1802 Heinrich Obler discovered another faint object in the same general area 2.77 AU and 4.6 year orbit it was another small object Pallas. 522 km in diameter.

Juno and Vesta were discovered in 1804 and 1807 respectively.

In 1891 Max Wolf started using photographic techniques to look for moving objects against the background of stars.  He discovered over 228 Asteroids. 

Today there are over 50,000 known asteroids about 7000 are seen consistently and have been named.

Naming convention: 1980 JE  Comets found in 1980.  the E stands for the 5th found in the second half of May (J)

 If an asteroid is found 4 times then it is recorded as an official asteroid and can be named by the founder. For example 1980 JE was renamed 3834 Zappafrank.  Were the first number is the number of its discovery and the second part is any name we want.  1 Ceres or 2 Pallas.

Asteroid Lab - Clea


NYC Performance Standards

S3c: Origin and evolution of the Earth system, such as geologic time and the age of life forms; origin of life, and evolution of the Solar System

S3d: Origin and evolution of the universe, such as the "big bang" theory; formation of stars and elements; and nuclear reactions.

S5b: Uses concepts from Science Standards 1 to 4 to explain a variety of observations and phenomena

S5c: Uses evidence from reliable sources to develop descriptions, explanations, and models; and makes appropriate adjustments and improvements based on additional data or logical arguments

S5d: Proposes, recognizes, analyzes, considers, and critiques alternative explanations; and distinguishes between fact and opinion

S5f: Works individually and in teams to collect and share information and ideas

S6d: Acquires information from multiple sources, such as print, the Internet, computer data bases, and experimentation.

S6e: Recognizes and limits sources of bias in data, such as observer and sample biases.

S7b: Argues from evidence, such as data produced through his or her own experimentation or data produced by others

National Teaching Standards

A: Teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program for their students

B: Teachers of science guide and facilitate learning

D: Teachers of science design and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science