Asteroid Symbols

My page about the large named objects in our solar system includes symbols for the named asteroids larger than 10 Zg. These asteroid symbols come from classical astronomical usage, modern astrological usage, and reader contributions.

The original 14ish

1 Ceres

2 Pallas

3 Juno

4 Vesta

5 Astraea

6 Hebe

7 Iris

8 Flora

9 Metis

10 Hygiea

11 Parthenope

12 Victoria
13 Egeria
14 Irene

15 Eunomia

When Ceres was discovered, it was believed to be a new planet and thus given a symbol. The following asteroids were also given symbols, even after it became clear that they were something other than planets, until after the discovery of 15 Eunomia when the convention changed to simply putting the asteroid's number inside a circle. (There is much more information about the early asteroid symbols at the page "When Did the Asteroids Become Minor Planets?".)

There appears to have been some confusion about 10 Hygiea's symbol - the original discovery article says that the symbol is "a snake and star" but later articles clearly show a snake and staff instead. I've drawn it as a snake and staff with a star just to cover all my bases.

13 Egeria was never assigned a symbol. Since it's not in the list of large asteroids, I haven't felt the need to come up with one for it, though I may do so in the future.

14 Irene was assigned a symbol by description ("A dove carrying an olive-branch, with a star on its head") but the symbol was apparently never drawn before the astronomical community stopped using asteroid symbols: the symbol here is my depiction of that description.

Astrology and the many faces of Vesta

The symbol for Vesta, depicting an oven or an altar carrying a flame, was drawn in multiple ways in astronomical publications. These are two representative versions.

In 1973, Eleanor Bach published "Ephemerides of the asteroids: Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta, 1900-2000" for an astrological audience. To my knowledge, this was the beginning of the astrological interest in the asteroids, especially these first four. Bach used a simplified symbol for Vesta that has since become the most widely-used one. (As astronomers rarely use astronomical symbols in practice, the astrological community has become the de facto authority on such symbols.)

These symbols vary slightly in usage. Ceres sometimes has the hook continuing past the handle, becoming a backwards C on a cross, or faces right instead of left. Pallas can be seen with an upwards-pointing triangle replacing the diamond. The symbol for Juno sometimes appears without the circle and sometimes has the rays only above the circle. In addition to the symbols above, Vesta is often shown as the symbol here.

Psyche and friends

16 Psyche

16 Psyche was the first asteroid explicitly given the circled-number style symbol by the astronomical community. The astrological community focused on the first 4 asteroids until 1980, when Al H. Morrison and Zane Stein began publishing ephemerides for other asteroids. As part of this work they provided new symbols for the 14 asteroids they eventually analyzed. Among these were 16 Psyche, given a symbol based on the Greek letter Psi. Zane Stein has a page describing these minor planet ephemerides on his website.

Contributed symbols

704 Interamnia
52 Europa
511 Davida
624 Hektor
87 Sylvia
31 Euphrosyne
324 Bamberga
65 Cybele
When I created the page of symbols, I used the circled-number symbols for the asteroids that did not have symbols already. George L Weilenmann thought that the numbers looked out of place among the more evocative symbols, and sent me these symbols. To the right are the original numerical symbol, his symbol, and my redrawing of his symbol (to fit the style of the other symbols on that page). His explanations for the symbols follows.

"Interamnia literally means between the 2 rivers, a wavy line is a universal symbol for river. So the symbol is the asteroid symbol between 2 river symbols."

"Europa was a minor demi-diety and said to represent a Lunar Cow in symbology. So for her I used the feminine cross with a crescent moon like symbol in a upturned position to also represent horns, and as usual the asteroidal star."

"Davida being named after a modern figure who was an astronomer who was known for helping bring about some changes in astronomy, I used mu, a common astronomic symbol, merged with Delta and the asteroidal star."

"Hektor being a great Greek hero known for his funeral, I chose a pictograph representing pallbearers carrying a body with the star above."

"Sylvia being named after Rhea Sylvia whose name means forest mother, to represent this I combined a common symbol for tree, and World, and female with the asteroidal star in the center of the World."

"Euphrosyne is the Second Grace of the Three. So 2 connected to 3 with the star symbol to represent asteroid. I did have one alternate using a sideways E with the middle tong longer with a circle attached with the asteroid symbol inside."

"Bamberga was the easiest as it is based off the coat of arms for the city of Bamberg, Germany after which this asteroid gets its name."

"Cybele being names after the Goddess Cybele (Great Mother, or Earth Mother), I opted to use a simple mountain symbol (great) with the earth (some time referred to as the mother) and asteroid symbols inside, with earth below star."

My thanks to George for sending these to me.

Last modified by Denis M. Moskowitz on Saturday, November 25 2006. George L Weilenmann's symbols and my redrawings of them are licensed under the GFDL. Other symbols are in the public domain. Many thanks to Zane Stein for information about astrological practices concerning the asteroids.