Saturday, 28 March 2020

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Though observed numerous times before and mistaken as a comet or star, the asteroid Pallas was discovered and identified—after Ceres—as the hypothetical planet astronomers expected to be present above the orbit or Mars and below that of Jupiter on this day in 1802 by Heinrich Wilhelm Matthais Olbers (*1758 – †1840).
Subsequent discoveries of asteroids occupying a belt that marked the edge of the inner solar system helped scientists come to the incremental conclusion that these celestial bodies were the debris of protoplanets that had failed to resolve into a globe under its own gravity. Named after the epithet for the goddess Athena (see previously)—meaning to brandish a weapon—and is represented by the astronomical symbol above, a spear. The asteroid’s discoverer is also known for his eponymous paradox—otherwise referred to as the dark sky paradox, a crucial thought experiment to dislodge the classical thinking that the Cosmos is static and eternal rather than dynamic since if Universe were infinitely old and homogenous, the night sky should be uniformly illuminated from stars spread out across the firmament.