Minor planet discovery in 1870 — Gold Half Dollar Coin

Today, the California Gold Half Dollar Coin remembers the discovery of a new minor planet, number 111, called Ate, by Dr. C. H. F. Peters on August 14, 1870.

Dr. Peters performed his large number of astronomical discoveries at the Litchfield Observatory at Clinton, New York.

From Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of September 1874:


Litchfield Observatory.

The erection of an observatory in connection with Hamilton College, Clinton, New York, grew out of the successful efforts of Professor Charles Avery, who secured in 1852–53 the sum of $15,000 for a first-class telescope of American manufacture.

The observatory was erected in 1854. It consists of a central main building twenty-seven feet square, two stories high, with a tower twenty feet in diameter, revolving on eight cast-iron balls on an iron track, and of two wings each eighteen feet square, one of which contains the transit instrument; the other is the director’s office.

Two handsome towers are now proposed for new instruments. In the tower the great equatorial, made by Spencer and Eaton, has an object-glass of 13.5 inches in diameter, and focal length of nearly sixteen feet; it is provided with a full set of positive and negative eye-pieces, by Spencer, Tolles, and the Steinheils, and with a ring and a filar micrometer.

For solar observations it has a prismatic polarizing eye-piece of original construction, by R. B. Tolles.

The declination circle of twenty-four inches reads by means of four verniers to four seconds of arc; the hour circle of fourteen inches by the verniers reads to two seconds of time.

The instrument is mounted on a granite shaft nine feet in height, resting on a pier of solid masonry.

The clock-work, with Bond’s escapement and governor, causes the telescope to follow the daily motion of the stars by acting on long arms attached to the equatorial axis.

The portable transit in the west room is of two and a half inches aperture, and has a cast-iron folding stand, invented by Würdeman, of Washington. It was the gift of Hon. A. S. Miller, of Rockford, Illinois.

The transit-room has one of Bond’s astronomical clocks, regulated for mean time, and provided with a break circuit, a Bond chronograph, a sidereal chronometer, with Hartnup’s improved compensation balance, and a Morse telegraph apparatus.

The director of the observatory, Dr. C. H. F. Peters, during his late visit to Europe, procured a fine comet-seeker of five inches aperture, the work of the distinguished optician Mr. Hugo Schröder, of Hamburg.

It is mounted on a tripod stand, with setting circles for altitude and azimuth; has powers ranging from 25 to 275, and a ring micrometer.

The instrument was exhibited at the last meeting of the German Astronomical Society, and its defining power declared by competent judges to be of a beauty seldom reached in telescopes of so difficult construction as comet-seekers.

Among the astronomical labors of the observatory have been the following important and successful operations:

In 1859, by the exchange of star signals with Harvard College Observatory, the longitude of Litchfield Observatory was accurately determined to be 17 minutes 6.46 seconds west of Cambridge.

In its turn this observatory already has become the basis of several longitudes in the State, determined under the auspices of the Regents of the University, at Buffalo, Syracuse, Elmira, Ogdensburg; and the longitude of the Detroit Observatory at Ann Arbor, Michigan, which latter formed the fundamental point for the longitudes of the Lake Survey by the United States, now under charge of General C. B. Comstock, United States Engineers.

The longitude of the western boundary of the State of New York also has been determined.

The observatory took its share in the observation of the solar eclipse of August 7, 1869, by using, at Des Moines, Iowa, a fine portable telescope, made by Steinheil, of Munich, which instrument was the liberal gift of Mr. Edwin C. Litchfield, who also defrayed the cost of the expedition organized for the observation.

This telescope has a focal length of five feet, is mounted parallactically on a solid iron tripod, with setting circles for right ascension and declination.

It has two terrestrial and six astronomical eye-pieces, a ring and a scale micrometer, a sliding wedge for moderating the light, and a direct-vision spectroscope. The aperture of its objective is four (French) inches.

To the rapidly increasing number of planetoids discovered within the last ten years Dr. Peters has had the honor of adding the following twenty: in 1861, Feronia; in 1862, Eurydice and Frigga; in 1865, Io; in 1866, Thisbe; in 1867, Undine; in 1868, Ianthe and Miriam: in 1869, Felicitas; in 1870, Ate and Iphigenia; in 1871, Cassandra and Sirona; in 1872, Gerda, Brunhilda, and Alceste; in 1873, Antigone, Electra, and Vala; in 1874, Hertha.

It is pleasant to learn that the Hon. Edwin C. Litchfield, of Brooklyn, an alumnus of Hamilton College, in 1866 placed this observatory, by the gift of a liberal endowment fund, on a permanent footing, whence, by resolution of the trustees, it received its present name.

Further improvements are now designed. Two towers are soon to be put upon it, and the building otherwise improved.

The munificence of an intelligent benefactor secures the appliances for a brilliant future for Clinton.


The Gold Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of the Litchfield Observatory, circa 1874.

Gold Half Dollar Coin