One hundred years ago today, a French astronomer was killed by his brother-in-law, who, unhappy the man had remarried, murdered the scientist at his observatory.
In was an inauspicious ending for Auguste Honoré Charlois, who, beginning in 1887, discovered 99 asteroids.
Although Charlois started searching for asteroids in the era of visual detection, by the 1890s he was using astrophotography, which dramatically sped up the rate of detection of asteroids.
Interestingly, one of the asteroids Charlois discovered was later included in a song by the famed rock band The Police. In “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is the line: “You consider me the young apprentice/Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis.’
Charybdis, also known as Asteroid 388, was spotted by Charlois on March 7, 1894. Scylla is Asteroid 155, and was discovered by Johann Palisa in Vienna on Nov. 8, 1875.
According to the Dictionary of Minor Planets, Asteroid 388 was named for a daughter of Poseidon and Gaea who was thrown into the sea off Sicily by Zeus where by swallowing and spewing water she created a whirlpool.
Odysseus, famed hero of Homer’s epic The Odyssey, was concerned with avoiding Charybdis, and in the process lost six of his men to the monster Scylla.
Later, stranded on a makeshift raft, Odysseus was swept back toward Scylla and Charybdis again. This time, he passed near Charybdis and his raft was sucked into Charybdis’ maw. But Odysseus survived by clinging to a fig tree.
On the next outflow of water, his raft was expelled and Odysseus was able to recover it and paddle away to safety.
Both Charybdis and Scylla are located between Mars and Jupiter.