This Day in History – December 22nd, 1891

Catherine Wolfe BruceMaximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf (June 21nd, 1863 – October 3rd, 1932) was a German astronomer and a pioneer in the field of astrophotography. He was Chairman of Astronomy at the University of Heidelberg and Director of the Landessternwarte Heidelberg-Königstuhl observatory from 1902 to 1932. With the use of photography, Wolf discovered his first asteroid 323 Brucia, named after Catherine Wolfe Bruce, on December 22nd, 1891.

Catherine Wolfe Bruce (January 22nd, 1816, New York – March 13th, 1900) was a noted American philanthropist and patroness of astronomy. She was the daughter of the famous type founder George Bruce, who was born in Edinburgh, and Catherine Wolfe. In 1887 she donated the George Bruce Free Library. Between 1889 and 1899 she donated funds to the Harvard College Observatory (U.S.A.), Yerkes Observatory (U.S.A.) and Landessternwarte Heidelberg-Königstuhl (Germany), run by Max Wolf at the time, to buy new telescopes at each of those institutes. In addition to asteroid 323 Brucia, she also had the Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the crater Bruce on the Moon named after her.

wolf_m1Maximilian Wolf pioneered the use of astrophotographic techniques to automate the discovery of asteroids, as opposed to older visual methods, as a result of which asteroid discovery rates sharply increased. In time-exposure photographs, asteroids appear as short streaks due to their planetary motion with respect to fixed stars. He discovered more than 200 asteroids in his lifetime.

Among his many discoveries was 588 Achilles (the first Trojan asteroid) in 1906, as well as two other Trojans: 659 Nestor and 884 Priamus. He also discovered 887 Alinda in 1918, which is now recognized as an Earth-crossing Amor asteroid (or sometimes classified as the namesake of its own Alinda family). Shortly after his last discovery (on February 6th, 1932), his record 248 discoveries were beaten by his pupil Karl Wilhelm Reinmuth, on July 24th, 1933.

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