Nerd Culture

Asteroids Named After Two Arizona State University Professors

So your kids share your surname? Big deal. Some people have entire minor planets named after them, including professors Phil Christensen and Dave Williams of the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration. The newly credited outer space insiders received their solar system namesakes from the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a considerable honor in the astronomy community.

See also: ASU's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Created a Mosaic of the Moon's Surface

While neither professor discovered the specified asteroids, their accomplishments in the study of planetary geology throughout their careers earned the approval of the IAU's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature.

In truth, it's fairly common for asteroids to be named after those who didn't discover them. Because it's not until after the asteroid has been found, identified, and thoroughly mapped out in orbit that the names of astronomers, scientists, or even celebrities can be thrown into the ring.

Professor Christensen received his namesake based on his instrumental work in creating infrared sensing instruments for the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu and NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Exploration Rovers. His asteroid, (90388) Philchristensen, which has a diameter of roughly 2.8 miles, was discovered in 2003 by the Catalina Sky Survey.

Asteroid (10461) Dawilliams, which has been assigned to professor Williams, was discovered in 1978 by E. Bowell and A. Warnock at Palomar Observatory. Williams is most noted for his concentrated research on volcanology and his contribution to NASA's Magellan Mission to Venus, Galileo Mission to Jupiter, and Dawn Mission to asteroid 4 Vesta, as well as the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter mission.

Both asteroids orbit in the Main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter and pose no threat of interfering with Earth. For more information, visit the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration online.

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Katie Johnson
Contact: Katie Johnson