Asteroids: A History



I finished reading Curtis Peebles' book Asteroids: A History with mixed emotions, but overall I was very disappointed. I enjoyed, with some reservations, the first few chapters, which describe the early days of asteroid astronomy. One thing that makes asteroid science enjoyable today is the rich collection of interesting and eccentric characters that share this profession.

The 19th and early 20th centuries were no different. The story of these dedicated and sometimes strange individuals makes for lively reading. There was Hermann Goldschmidt, a German-born artist living over the Café Procope in Paris. In 1852, he caught the asteroid bug after attending a public lecture on astronomy, bought a telescope, and over the next 9 years discovered 14 asteroids by observing out of his apartment window with a 2-inch telescope! In those days, before astronomical photography, observers searched for asteroids by hand-drawing the starfield as seen through the telescope and then comparing it with another hand-drawn starfield done hours or nights later. Keen eyesight, steady hands, and the ability to draw accurately in the dark—and cold—were major advantages.