By N. Sridhar
Indian Chess champion Viswanathan Anand has become a celestial celebrity with his name added to a minor planet referred to till now by its number 4538, thanks to a staffer at the Minor Planet Center.
The Minor Planet Center only has the authority to designate new asteroid discoveries and assign numbers to those whose orbits are of a high enough accuracy, but names for numbered asteroids must be submitted to and approved by the Committee for Small Body Nomenclature (CSBN) of the International Astronomical Union.
In fact, a shortened form of Viswanathan Anand as “Vishyanand” was suggested to adhere to the norm of set rules that the proposed name should have 16 characters or less, without space in between.
The planet named after Anand is located between Mars and Jupiter, and was discovered in October 1988 by Japan astronomer Kenzo Suzuki in Toyota. Since he did not exercise his right to name it himself, the responsibility passed on to the MPC and its staffer Rudenko, a chess buff, chose Vishyanand.
Now that the news is making rounds, it is apt to know what the MPC’s responsibility is all about. Located at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Division F of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the center is sustaining on a five-year grant from NASA and is responsible for naming minor bodies in the solar system such as minor planets, comets, in conjunction with the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) and natural satellites.
Besides naming, the MPC also collects data, computes them, checks them and disseminates astrometric observations and orbits for minor planets and comets. As of now, the Center holds over 680,000 asteroids in its archive but only 430,000 of them are numbered.
Since the IAU has not insisted that all asteroids must have a name, only a few thousands do have a name and going by MPC blogger J.L. Galache, all those interested should have a right to get a planet or asteroid registered in their name.
“Instead of leaving this onerous, yet delicate, task in the hands of asteroid discoverers or IAU bureaucrats (do they have a PhD in Nameology we ask?), it has been decided that the whole process will be automated and, in the spirit of that great empire, Rome, be for the people, by the people,” he wrote explaining how it should work.
Howeer, he suggests presenting each of those whose name has been designed to describe a celestial body with a “commemorative plaque of silver mounted on sustainably-grown mahogany, which will have their name, asteroid name, and asteroid details engraved on it.” He even suggests wryly that a 3D hologram of the asteroid’s orbit should be inserted in it. Good for Romans!
Minor Planet Center STATS:
Near-Earth Objects Discovered
Minor Planets Discovered
|THIS YEAR:||9.4 million|
|ALL TIME:||129.1 million|