Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pet Rocks? Naming things in Space

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Have you ever wanted to get something in space named after someone? Well it turns out you can but it's not as easy as filling out a web form or paying some money.
  • Lot's of people are interested in naming stars after someone (I regularly see queries from search engines for this). But, the truth is you can't really do it. There are lots of people who will take your money for a piece of paper. It will be for a star you'll likely never see and no one will recognize. If you really want to, use one of the free services mentioned in a related article and treat it as entertainment.
  • If you discover a comet, they'll name it after you. And if you're a co-discoverer then you'll be hyphenated. In today's world there is a very good chance the other side of the hyphen is a robot telescope like LINEAR, Catalina, SOHO, or NEAT. With all the robots looking for stray rocks, the chances of double hyphenation (ouch) are pretty good.
  • If you're good enough to discover a planet, dwarf planet, or moon then you get to submit the name. But to do this you're going to be a professional planet hunter. And if you do, the name will probably fit the current theme such as underworld deities. (And no, Kate Beckinsale does not count.)
  • If you have a talk show you might be able to hijack a poll and get some space equipment, like a treadmill, named after you.
But it turns out that there is at least one other way you might get to name something out there. And it's within reach of amateur astronomers. Mind you these are well equipped and skilled ones, but amateurs nonetheless. So if you what to name something in space go and discover an asteroid!

Once you've found it you can pick almost anything your heart desires. There are a few naming rules (non-offensive, 16 or fewer characters, and reasonably distinct). You get your very own pet rock in space!

So ever wonder who asteroid discoverers are thinking about? If you are you can checkout this list at the Harvard University Minor Planet Centre. Here are a few examples of the kinds of people, places, and things honored by asteroid hunters:

Science-fiction and other authors:
  • Douglasadams (25924)
  • Bradbury (9766)
  • Clarke (4923 )
  • Heinlein (6371)
  • Hemingway (3656)
  • Shakespeare (2985)
  • Tolkien (2675)
Famous scientists, doctors, thinkers, patrons
  • Jacquescousteau (6542)
  • Einstein (2001)
  • Fermat (12007)
  • Fermi (8103)
  • Hawking (7672)
  • Heimlich (10637)
  • Oppenheimer (67085)
  • Szilard: (38442)
  • Turing (10204)
Actors, athletes, directors, comedians, and other celebrities
  • Johncleese (9618) - silly orbit no doubt
  • Cronkite (6318)
  • Bobbyfisher (19577)
  • Flynn (2994)
  • Gehrig (5891)
  • Carygrant (9342)
  • Hitchcock (7032)
  • (Howard) Shem (30444) - of the 3 Stooges
  • Kubrick (10221)
  • Monroe (3768) - Marilyn
  • Jesseowens (6758)
  • Spassky (11268)
  • Warhol (6701)
Musicians and groups
  • Beatles (8749)
  • Beethoven (1815)
  • Enricocaruso(37573)
  • Enya (6433)
  • Pink Floyd (19367)
  • Rolling Stones (19383)
Historical figures and places and events
  • (Neil) Armstrong (6469)
  • Annefrank (5535)
  • Gagarin (1772)
  • Grant (3154)
  • Lee (3155)
  • Lincoln (3153)
  • Evita (1569)
  • Tunguska (5471)
  • Vesuvius (13897)
People, places and things from fiction
  • Beowulf (38086)
  • Enterprise (9777)
  • Excalibur (9499)
  • Nautilus (9769)
  • Nemo (1640)
  • Paris (3317) - of Troy
  • Sherlock (5049)
  • Mr. Spock (2309)

Computers and Software
  • ASCII (3568)
  • APL (132524)
  • Fortran (9548)
  • GNU (9965)
  • Edmonton (96193)

Satellites and things astronomical
  • Alouette (9995)
  • Davidunlap (70207)
Update: A list of objects named after people associated with University of Toronto can be found here. (h/t Gordo).  These include:
  • (Helen) Sawyer Hogg (2917)
  • (Ian) Shelton (5953) -who ran the DDO outreach program
  • Toronto (2104)

Of future names

Because the pace of asteroid discovery has picked up in recent years there are so many now that many will never receive names. Discoverers may take the lead of Mike Brown who discovered Vanth (moon of Orcus) by opening up for suggestions.

Here are a few modest suggestion:
  • Baden-Powell
  • MarvintheMartian
  • FlinFlon or Tarzana
  • Timbuktu or TristanDaCunha
  • TomLerher
  • Kipling

And if your confused there is a source for the meanings of asteroid names.

Finally, once you've named it or found one with a name that interests you, you can look up its orbit with the JPL Orbit Simulator.  Just look up the name or number and go. 

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1 comment:

Gordo said...

One of the astronomy profs at work has an asteroid named for him. Neat stuff.

Oh, and Kate Beckinsale always counts. ;-)