Asteroid Named in Honor of 50th Anniversary of the Space Age

Oct 10, 2007
Asteroid Named in Honor of 50th Anniversary of the Space Age
Orbital diagram of (100000) Astronautica. Credit: NASA/JPL

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the start of the Space Age, an asteroid has been named "Astronautica." Minor planet number 100,000 (also known as 1982 SH1) was chosen for this honor because space is defined to begin at an altitude of 100,000 meters (100 kilometers, or 62 miles) above the earth's surface.

"Fifty years ago, a tiny satellite named Sputnik became the world's first artificial satellite. It seemed only fitting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dawn of the Space Age in some astronomical way," said Brian Marsden, director emeritus of the Minor Planet Center, which is located at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.

The Minor Planet Center serves as a clearinghouse for asteroid discoveries and assigns numbers in the order that observations are received and catalogued. Astronautica received the number 100,000 in October 2005. It was discovered by astronomer Jim Gibson of Palomar Observatory on September 28, 1982, only days before the 25th anniversary of Sputnik.

"Astronautica is not a particularly unusual object," Marsden said. "It just happened to be the 100,000th entry into our database."

The name was approved by the International Astronomical Union's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, of which Marsden is a member. Currently, 14,077 asteroids have names while a total of 164,612 asteroids have been identified and numbered.

"Typically the discoverer names the asteroid, but the committee sometimes takes the initiative for special numbers," explained Marsden. "October 4, 2007 was an important anniversary, and we felt it was right to recognize it this way. We wanted a name with a broad international appeal, so we chose 'Astronautica,' which comes from the Latin for 'star sailor.'"

Astronautica is a space rock about a mile in size. Due to its small size and low mass, it is undoubtedly a misshapen lump like many asteroids.

Its orbit lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It circles the Sun at an average distance of about 175 million miles. A "year' on Astronautica lasts around 940 days-the equivalent of 2.6 Earth years.

Astronauts may visit Astronautica some day, using tethers to anchor themselves to the surface in the asteroid's weak gravity. However, that day is far in the future. Space travelers are likely to head to near-Earth objects like Eros well before making the long trip to the asteroid belt.

"Perhaps on the 100th anniversary of Sputnik, a tour group will visit Astronautica," Marsden grinned.

Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Explore further: SpaceX close to figuring out rocket failure during launch

Related Stories

Solar Impulse 2 pilot becomes aviation legend

54 minutes ago

At 62 years of age, Swiss Solar Impulse 2 pilot Andre Borschberg has made aviation history with a record breaking solo flight across the Pacific that he has called "an interior journey".

Facegloria: Facebook for Brazil's Evangelicals

1 hour ago

Fluffy clouds waft across a blue sky as you log in and while you chat with friends, Gospel music rings out: welcome to Facegloria, the social network for Brazilian Evangelicals.

Mexico City proposes regulations for Uber

1 hour ago

Mexico City is proposing regulations that would allow Uber and other smartphone-based ride-sharing apps to operate, while requiring drivers and cars to be registered, the city's Office of Legal and Legislative Studies said ...

Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

14 hours ago

The DNA molecule is chemically unstable giving rise to DNA lesions of different nature. That is why DNA damage detection, signaling and repair, collectively known as the DNA damage response, are needed.

Recommended for you

What is the newest planet?

17 hours ago

With astronomers discovering new planets and other celestial objects all the time, you may be wondering what the newest planet to be discovered is. Well, that depends on your frame of reference. If we are ...

Catching Earth at aphelion

17 hours ago

Do you feel a littleā€¦ distant today? The day after the 4th of July weekend brings with it the promise of barbecue leftovers and discount fireworks. It also sees our fair planet at aphelion, or its farthest ...

Opportunity's 7th Mars winter to include new study area

18 hours ago

Operators of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity plan to drive the rover into a valley this month where Opportunity will be active through the long-lived rover's seventh Martian winter, examining outcrops ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.