The discovery and naming of Trojan asteroids

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German astronomer Max Wolf (1863–1932) pioneered photographic observation of asteroids and is credited as the discoverer of Trojan asteroids in 1906. His partnership with the Austro-Hungarian Empire astronomer Johann Palisa for visual confirmation led to the suggestion to call these bodies, with apparently common properties, “Trojans.” Wolf’s systematic approach led the Heidelberg-Königstuhl Observatory to be a world power in asteroid discovery around the turn of the twentieth century and led to the recognition of a new orbital class. E. E. Barnard had made an isolated observation of a Trojan in 1904, but the credit for Trojan discovery nevertheless rests with Wolf and Palisa, who immediately identified the unusual motion of 588 Achilles. Despite Wolf’s extensive education in orbital mechanics, the association of Trojan asteroids with the elegant three-body solution of Lagrange seemed unknown to him. It was quickly pointed out by his Swedish colleague C. V. L. Charlier, who had just completed a textbook on celestial mechanics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-104
Number of pages29
JournalJournal for the History of Astronomy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb. 2024


  • Asteroid discovery
  • asteroid groups
  • astrophotography
  • three-body problem
  • Trojan asteroids


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