20 New Asteroid Names Honour Prominent Canadians, Thanks to RASC Work

NASA Eyes on Asteroids. Image credit: NASA.

Twenty asteroids now have Canadian individuals in their names, thanks to the efforts of The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the official naming body for astronomical objects, and per its naming rules nominations may be submitted for individuals to have their names attached to asteroids.

Simply put, asteroids first receive a provisional serial number (made up of letters and numbers) with the IAU Minor Planet Center. Once the orbit is known and confirmed, an asteroid will get a permanent number from the centre. Then a name may be proposed for each asteroid, subject to approval. The naming usually is done by the asteroid discoverer, but in some cases the discoverer does not submit one – hence where the RASC came in.

Asteroid names have rules that must pass muster with the IAU, such as not being longer than 16 characters, being outside of politics or the military, and having unique names from others in the solar system. The latest announcement was made public in the November 2023 monthly bulletin of the IAU Working Group for Small Bodies Nomenclature that approves the names. (SpaceQ founder Marc Boucher was on the list, along with Canadian journalists, science communicators, prominent RASC members, astronomers and similar.)

Ida is the second asteroid visited by a spacecraft, and the first found to have its own moon. Image credit: NASA
Ida is the second asteroid visited by a spacecraft, and the first found to have its own moon. Image credit: NASA

“This is the second time we’ve gone through a whole cycle, and the cycle consists of me inviting the clubs across Canada to submit nominations to me,” Peter Jedicke, a past RASC president and active member with the London branch, told SpaceQ.

When working with the asteroid names, Jedicke consults with the individuals submit nominations and then formats the submissions into the proper format for IAU. Once that is finished, he sends the names in batches for consideration to the working group. This group was submitted in January 2023, he said, and unusually the entire set was accepted at once instead of a few per cycle. “That was a bit of a surprise, and a pleasant one,” he said.

Jedicke called himself “very motivated” to attach names to asteroids, which is a process that he has been doing with RASC since 2018. Statistics suggest, he said, that there are on the order of 10 million asteroids in our solar system. Only one million of them have been discovered, Jedicke said. About 600,000 of them have numbers, and a recent Washington Post report from October 2023 said that at that time, only 24,447 had names.

“The rule is that an asteroid has to get its number first, and then the discoverer has the opportunity to propose a name. But if the discoverer doesn’t propose a name, then the committee can accept other nominations,” Jedicke explained.

“The rules were made up decades ago,” he added. “But with modern technology, discoverers can now discover them by the literally by the thousands. A lot of numbered asteroids don’t get named by their discoverers, because there’s so many. I felt already years ago, that it would be a really wonderful thing – if for no other reason, and simply from the point of view of promoting astronomy – to expand this to … everybody who’s interested in astronomy, and devoted to working in astronomy. Either achieving things themselves, or sharing astronomy, sharing their love of the sky, with other citizens.”

Canada, he explained, is in a “sweet spot” of astronomy in that our country makes small but meaningful contributions to that field that punch above our weight, given the small size of our population against bigger entities like the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom or India. Moreover, the Canadian astronomy community is small enough where folks at events “can meaningfully know each other. I think that’s marvelous.”

The full list of new Canadian asteroid names, including part of their citations, are:

  • (20018) Paulgray = 1991 UJ2. Paul Michael Gray (b. 1972) is a Canadian amateur astronomer who has served as President of both the RASC Halifax Centre and the RASC New Brunswick Centre.
  • (20020) Mipach = 1991 VT. Mike Powell (b. 1959), Paul Owen (b. 1960) and Chris Curwin (b. 1959) are amateur astronomers in New Brunswick, Canada. Motivated by the coronavirus lockdown to offer online presentations, they created “The Sunday Night Astronomy Show.”
  • (20021) Kevinkell = 1991 VM6. Kevin Kell (b. 1963) is a Canadian amateur astronomer who has served RASC Kingston Centre as President, Secretary, Treasurer, Equipment Loan Coordinator and editor of Regulus, the club’s newsletter.
  • (20022) Dontown = 1991 VO7. Donald Town (b. 1953) is a Canadian engineer, photographer and amateur astronomer who has served as President of the RASC Belleville Centre, and represented the club on the RASC National Council, where he was on the constitution committee.
  • (20026) Bettyrobinson = 1992 EP11. Betty Robinson (b. 1953) has been an RASC member since 1981, holding several positions with Toronto and Mississauga centres. She also served as a Director of the RASC and copy editor for the Observer’s Handbook.
  • (20027) Michaelwatson = 1992 EY14. Michael S. F. Watson (b. 1952) is a partner in a Toronto law firm, an accomplished astrophotographer and eclipsophile and an active member of the RASC since 1970. He served as RASC Treasurer and, more recently, Director and First Vice-President.
  • (20028) Stansammy = 1992 EZ21. Stan Sammy (b. 1946) is a Trinidad-born Canadian amateur astronomer who has been active in RASC Niagara Centre since 2000. Sammy served as Public Events Coordinator, Vice-President, and twice as President.
  • (20029) Dorner = 1992 EB24. Rudolph Dorner (1948–2022) was a German-Canadian amateur astronomer, an electrician, machinist, investor and telescope collector. As a member of the RASC Kitchener-Waterloo Centre, he provided active, generous assistance to observers and instrument maker.
  • (20030) Bawtenheimer = 1992 EN30. Daniel C. Bawtenheimer (1900–1981) was a Canadian amateur astronomer who helped found the RASC Windsor Centre in 1944, serving as the first Secretary and then President in 1948–1949 and 1955.
  • (20032) McNish = 1992 PU. Larry McNish (b. 1950) is a computer science engineer and Canadian amateur astronomer. A member of RASC Calgary Centre since 2003, McNish served as President, outreach volunteer, observatory builder and educator.
  • (20033) Michaelnoble = 1992 PR1. Michael P. Noble (1954–2022) was a Canadian amateur astronomer known for high resolution, full-sky coverage of meteor, aurora, and noctilucent cloud (NLC) events. He was also a generous supporter of public outreach with RASC Edmonton Centre.
  • (20034) Greenhalgh = 1992 PK2. Paul Greenhalgh (1957–2017) was a Canadian amateur astronomer and a founding member of the precursor club to RASC Fraser Valley Centre. Greenhalgh worked to establish the McDonald Park Dark-Sky Preserve in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and the Merritt Star Quest event.
  • (20035) Lauriroche = 1992 SA4.  Lauri Roche (b. 1949) is a retired math, science, and special education teacher who joined RASC Victoria Centre in 1995 and leads local outreach activities. She was President of the club in 2011–2012.
  • (20036) Marcboucher = 1992 UW1. Marc Boucher (b. 1964) is a Canadian entrepreneur, writer, editor and publisher. He created Maple Square, a directory and search engine, co-founded SpaceRef Interactive and also was the founder of SpaceQ Media.
  • (20039) Danfalk = 1992 WJ. Daniel (Dan) Falk (b. 1966) is a Canadian author who specializes in science and who co-hosted a podcast called BookLab where science books are reviewed. Falk’s books include The Science of Shakespeare, In Search of Time and Universe on a T-Shirt.
  • (20041) Gainor = 1992 YH. Christopher Gainor (b. 1954) is a Canadian journalist, historian and amateur astronomer with a PhD in the history of technology from the University of Alberta. He has written six books about aerospace, and was President of the RASC in 2018–2020.
  • (20042) Mortillaro = 1993 CK1. Nicole Mortillaro (b. 1972) is a Canadian science journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and amateur astronomer. She became editor of the Journal of the RASC in 2015 and shared the Kavli Science Journalism Award in 2021.
  • (20045) Semeniuk = 1993 FV11. Ivan Alexander Semeniuk (b. 1964) is a Canadian science writer at the Globe & Mail who specializes in astronomy and space. He was a Knight Fellow at MIT.
  • (20046) Seronik = 1993 FE15. Gary Seronik (b. 1961) is a Canadian astronomer, photographer and writer. He presented and produced shows at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, was editor of the Canadian SkyNews magazine, and held several senior positions at Sky & Telescope magazine.
  • (20047) Davidsuzuki = 1993 FD18. David Takayoshi Suzuki (b. 1936) is a Canadian geneticist and science communicator. He hosted the radio program Quirks & Quarks and the television series The Nature of Things.

About Elizabeth Howell

Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.

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