New Named Asteroids – Feb. 12, 2017
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The day before the 4th anniversary of the Chelyabinsk meteor strike, the IAU Minor Planet Center released a new circular: this one, however, contains only the citations for newly names minor planets – it is completely devoid of the usual list of asteroid and comet observations. Here are the new named minor planets for Feb. 12, 2017: (6117) Brevardastro = 1985 CZ1 Discovered 1985 Feb. 12 by H. Debehogne at the European Southern Observatory. Brevard is a county on the east coast of Florida and is known as the “space coast”. Brevard county is the home of the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, where many of the early manned space flights originated. The Brevard Astronomical Society is a very active amateur astronomy community in Brevard county. (6118) Mayubosh = 1986 QX3 Discovered 1986 Aug. 31 by H. Debehogne at the European Southern Observatory. There is a Japanese poem whose subject is Mt. Bizan in the Manyosyu, an anthology of the Nara Era. … Continue reading

New Named Asteroids – Jan. 12, 2017
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Each month (or thereabouts), the IAU Minor Planet Center publishes a PDF document containing an extensive list of asteroid and comet observations. At the bottom of this document is a list of newly named asteroids. Asteroids have been named after: scientists (Br. Guy Consolmagno, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson) and fictional characters (Sauron, Achilles), cities (Barcelona, Chicago), and entertainers (Freddie Mercury, Monty Python, Wil Wheaton), science and engineering fair winning students, and space mission specialists (a boatload of OSIRIS-REx mission team members got asteroids named after them). The Warren Astronomical Society and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific both have asteroids named after them. While doing research for my lecture on asteroids, I got to know an astronomer who worked at the Catalina Sky Survey; through him, I was able to get an asteroid named after my wife: 117852 Constance (2005 JG151). Each citation is allowed a short description of the recipient; sometimes it can be difficult to extol the virtues of … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Under the Southern Cross
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This column first ran in The Tablet in August, 2009 Galaxies whirled before us, their curled spiral arms lit up like Christmas trees with bright infrared dots where young stars were being formed from interstellar clouds of gas and dust. Meanwhile, in their central bulges, streams of similar gas and dust were feeding the maws of  supermassive black holes, emitting high energy radiation in their death plunges. Looking at galaxies ever farther away in space, we could trace out ever further back in time the evolution of galactic clusters from filaments of matter shaped by energies we didn’t even know existed ten years ago, which we must merely label as “dark”. We saw the swirling convection of a collapsing stellar core as modeled by a computer that almost, but not quite, reproduced the explosion of a supernova bursting as bright as any one of those galaxies. Not quite reproduced; because our models aren’t quite right yet. We have not yet discovered, … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Planetary Counsels
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This column was first published in The Tablet in September 2005. Of course, as we all know, the discussions talked about here finally came to their climax in August 2006 with the definition of a “Dwarf Planet” as I described here. During the Council of Nicaea, so the story goes, tempers ran so high over the question of defining Jesus’ human and divine natures that fist fights broke out in the streets. Our councils this past month were much smaller, but no less heated. In Brazil, Norway, and Britain, various subsets of an International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group met in August and September [2005] to finally try to define a planet. Although our working group has been around for more than a year (I wrote about it here in April, 2004) the situation reached a crisis this summer with the announcement of the particulars for a body temporarily designated 2003 UB313. It’s ten billion miles from the Sun, in … Continue reading

Encore: Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
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Encore: on Wednesdays, we repost the best posts from previous months, and make them publicly available. To comment, please see the original post. (A column from The Tablet, first published in March, 2004) On the other side of Neptune live the Trans-Neptunian Objects, or TNOs. They are worlds so faint that to measure their colors, we use a mirror nearly two meters across to gather their light, which we focus into a spot of only a few hundreds of a millimeter, collecting it with an ultra-sensitive electronic chip, over a five-minute time exposure. They move – more than five minutes and the spot turns into a streak. But take enough exposures over a few hours and you can plot their motions against the background stars and galaxies. The TNOs are thought to be the home of a class of comets, and they may represent material that’s been kept in “deep freeze” since the solar system was first formed. Though theorized … Continue reading

Across the Universe: What’s in a Name?
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(A column from The Tablet, first published in March, 2004) On the other side of Neptune live the Trans-Neptunian Objects, or TNOs. They are worlds so faint that to measure their colors, we use a mirror nearly two meters across to gather their light, which we focus into a spot of only a few hundreds of a millimeter, collecting it with an ultra-sensitive electronic chip, over a five-minute time exposure. They move – more than five minutes and the spot turns into a streak. But take enough exposures over a few hours and you can plot their motions against the background stars and galaxies. The TNOs are thought to be the home of a class of comets, and they may represent material that’s been kept in “deep freeze” since the solar system was first formed. Though theorized about for years, it’s only in the last decade that new telescopes, more sensitive detectors, and a crew of patient observers have begun … Continue reading