In a NASA contest, a nine-year-old has named asteroid 1999 RQ36 after the Egyptian god Bennu.

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A rose by any other name: In a NASA contest, a nine-year-old has named asteroid 1999 RQ36 after the Egyptian god Bennu.

1999 RQ36, or Bennu, is an important asteroid for two reasons. First, NASA is sending an unmanned sample return mission to it in 2016. Second, some calculations suggest the asteroid has a 1 in a 1000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2182.

In other naming news, the private space company Uwingu has launched its “Adopt-a-Planet” campaign.

This open-ended campaign gives anyone in the public—worldwide—the opportunity to adopt exoplanets in astronomical databases via Uwingu’s web site at Proceeds from the naming and voting will continue to help fuel new Uwingu grants to fund space exploration, research, and education.

As noted earlier, they are ignoring the IAU’s stuffy insistence that only the IAU can name things in space.



  • Scott

    You’re right. That IAU power grab is unforgivable. I’m planning my own adopt-a-asteroid non-profit group. Please contribute what you can by sending a little something via Paypal to my e-mail address.

  • Dwight Decker

    I just had some contact with the IAU. Several years ago, I researched an article for the Griffith Observer about a German astronomer who thought he had discovered a hitherto unseen moon of Mars in 1744. He was mistaken, and the best I can figure is he misidentified the Crab Nebula, which was close to Mars that night. However, trying to publicize his discovery led him to write a story about a journey to his hypothetical moon that is credited with being the first science-fiction story written in German and maybe the first story ever written about a trip to Mars (or the vicinity, anyway). He also wrote a non-fiction book about the solar system for the general public. I figured the old fellow’s heart was in the right place and even if he was mistaken about his Martian moon, just for his efforts as a popularizer of astronomer he deserves better than to be remembered (if it all) as an incompetent astronomer who saw things that weren’t there. Wouldn’t it be nice if some feature on Phobos, a real Martian moon, could be named after him?
    So I made inquiries with the IAU, addressing my suggestion to the relevant party listed on the IAU website. The reply was discouraging in that nothing much is apparently being done with naming things on Phobos at the moment. Features are generally named when they need to be, such as when a flyby by a spaceprobe passes an object that hasn’t been seen close-up before, but back-burnered when there isn’t a pressing need. But the reply was also encouraging in that my suggestion wasn’t considered unreasonable and would be forwarded to relevant committee members for further consideration.
    Whether anything will come of it, I don’t know. One of my long-range plans is to translate the astronomer’s 1744 story into English and see it through the press, and it may be necessary for the story to be known in English before the author would be taken seriously as a historical figure worthy of inclusion as a name on Phobos. The IAU’s guidelines for naming features on Phobos stipulate scientists involved or associated with the Martian moons, or characters and places from Gulliver’s Travels. If they’re allowing Gulliver’s Travels names because Swift speculated in fiction about Martian moons long before they were actually discovered, surely there’s an opening for my guy.
    What struck me, though, was that even though I’m not a science professional, the IAU rep didn’t dismiss my suggestion out of hand and seemed to think it was worth at least considerating further up the line. So it seems to be open to outsiders if they have something appropriate to suggest.
    After all, I wasn’t trying to get a star named after my grandmother. The IAU surely serves a purpose in keeping nomenclature orderly and appropriate, and out of the hands of bogus “star registries” that offer to name things for a fee.

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