Asteroids & Impact Hazards
Asteroid 951 Gaspra was photographed by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in 1991, while the
unmanned probe was en route to Jupiter. Photo courtesy NASA.
Asteroids are solid, rocky bodies thought to be remnants from the formation of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago. They range in size from small boulders tens of meters wide to the size of islands hundreds of kilometers across.
The vast majority of them reside in a gravitationally stable zone between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, called the Main Asteroid Belt. It is estimated that the Main Belt contains up to about two million asteroids 1 kilometer or more in diameter.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU), through its 15-member Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, is the scientific organization responsible for the naming of small bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids and comets.
In the case of minor planets, for centuries they have traditionally been named after mythological figures and geographical places, as well as renowned scientists, poets, composers, artists, novelists, and other prominent personalities.
Before an asteroid name becomes official, it goes through the IAU’s rigorous evaluation and approval process. “Asteroid names are normally proposed by the discoverers, but other proposals are sometimes considered,” says Dr. Brian G. Marsden, director of the IAU’s Minor Planet Center (MPC) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “If even one committee member objects strongly to a name, it is likely to be rejected.”
Asteroid 6282 Edwelda
There is now a growing constellation of minor planets that have been named after Filipinos. It began in November 1995, when the IAU named asteroid No. 6282 “Edwelda” in our honor.
A self portrait of Edwin and Imelda taken in late 1995 shortly after
the IAU announced the naming of asteroid 6282 Edwelda.
Edwelda, which is a combination of our first names, was coined by Dr. Marsden. The asteroid name was bestowed upon us in recognition of our accomplishments in the field of astronomy. These include the book we wrote on Halley’s Comet, which was published in 1985 by the National Research Council of the Philippines.
American astronomer Carolyn S. Shoemaker discovered asteroid 6282 on October 9, 1980, from Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California, and was given the preliminary designation 1980 TS4.
Shoemaker proposed to the IAU the naming of the asteroid after us at the suggestion of David H. Levy and Stephen James O'Meara. David and Steve were the ones who prepared the asteroid’s official citation, which was published in MPC Circular No. 25978 on November 7, 1995.
(David and Carolyn, together with Carolyn’s late husband, Gene, were the codiscoverers of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, the fragments of which collided with Jupiter in the summer of 1994 and produced some of the most spectacular impacts ever witnessed in the solar system.)
About a month after news of Edwelda reached the Philippines, we received a pleasant surprise in the mail — a letter from President Fidel V. Ramos congratulating us on the asteroid’s naming.
“This is indeed a signal achievement of Filipino talent in science and is a mark of our continuing quest for excellence,” wrote President Ramos. “We are proud of you and hope that you will continue to bring honor to our country.”
Based on Edwelda’s absolute magnitude (H) of 14.7, astronomers calculated the asteroid’s diameter to be about 3 to 7 kilometers. One would need a fairly large telescope and a sensitive CCD camera to record its very dim, star-like image.
Edwelda takes 3.51 years to complete one orbit around the Sun. For more technical information about 6282 Edwelda, including its orbital elements, ephemeris, and an interactive diagram of its orbit, visit the Solar System Dynamics website of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Asteroid 4866 Badillo
In 2005, minor planet No. 4866 became officially known as “Badillo,” after the Filipino Jesuit priest Father Victor L. Badillo. We proposed the naming of the asteroid to the IAU to honor Father Badillo, who was the former director of the Manila Observatory in Quezon City and one of the founders of the Philippine Astronomical Society.
Edwin and Imelda with Father Victor Badillo at the Manila Observatory in 1992.
The official IAU citation for asteroid 4866 Badillo, published in MPC Circular No. 54173, reads: “Victor L. Badillo (born 1930) has popularized astronomy in the Philippines for more than three decades, inspiring countless Filipino astronomers. Ordained in 1965, he directed the Jesuit-run Manila Observatory in Quezon City and served as president of the Philippine Astronomical Society from 1972 to 1990.”
The asteroid, which measures some 13 to 30 kilometers across, was discovered on November 10, 1988, by T. Kojima from Chiyoda, Japan, and was given the preliminary designation 1988 VB3. It revolves around the Sun once every 5.2 years.
“I am delighted and thrilled to have received this great honor,” says Father Badillo. A physicist by training, he obtained his Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in Missouri in 1963. He remains an amateur astronomer at heart, mentoring generations of Filipino stargazers through the years, including us.
Asteroid 6636 Kintanar
In early 2007, we proposed to the IAU to have a minor planet named after Dr. Roman L. Kintanar, the Filipino scientist who headed the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) for nearly 36 years before retiring in 1994. He was also president of the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, for eight years.
Imelda and Edwin visiting Dr. Roman Kintanar (with one of his grandsons) at his home in Quezon City in 1992.
That April, the IAU officially christened asteroid No. 6636 as “Kintanar.” We made the proposal to recognize Dr. Kintanar’s long service and innumerable contributions to the advancement and modernization of weather forecasting in the Philippines, as well as for inspiring young, talented Filipino scientists.
“This is such a big honor for me,” said Dr. Kintanar, who received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas in 1958. “I feel that my efforts in the past are well compensated by this unique accolade.”
The official citation for asteroid 6636 Kintanar, published in MPC Circular No. 59384, reads: “Roman Lucero Kintanar (b. 1929) directed the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration from 1958 to 1994. A dedicated public servant and distinguished scientist, he was president of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization during 1979-1987.”
The asteroid, which measures 4 to 9 kilometers in diameter, was discovered on September 11, 1988, by Bulgarian astronomer Vladimir Georgiev Shkodrov at Rozhen Observatory, and was given the preliminary designation 1988 RK8. It has an orbital period of 3.42 years.
Sadly, Dr. Kintanar passed away only a month after the asteroid’s name was approved. He was 77.
Asteroid 7806 UMasslowell
In 2008, our proposal to the IAU to have a minor planet named after the University of Massachusetts Lowell was granted. That August, asteroid No. 7806 was officially christened “Umasslowell” in honor of the University’s academic and scientific achievements.
The campus of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
The official citation for 7806 Umasslowell, published in MPC Circular No. 63639, states: “The University of Massachusetts at Lowell is an educational and research institution with roots dating back to the 1890s. UMass Lowell faculty and students conduct pioneering work in such fields as nanotechnology, advanced polymers, life sciences and radar imaging.”
“This is truly an honor for UMass Lowell,” says Chancellor Marty Meehan. “We’re grateful to the international astronomical community for this special recognition.”
According to Marsden, of the nearly 14,700 asteroid names that had been given so far, only about 300 have been bestowed to institutes, observatories, and universities. Thus, UMass Lowell joins a small number of prestigious institutions of higher learning worldwide that have been honored in this manner. In the U.S., these include Princeton, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Brown, Caltech, MIT, and Cornell.
This image of asteroid 7806 Umasslowell (circled) was captured on September 9, 2008, by astronomers Giovanni Sostero and Ernesto Guido in Remanzacco, Italy, using a remotely controlled 14-inch Celestron telescope and SBIG ST-8E CCD camera in New South Wales, Australia.
Asteroid Umasslowell measures 4 to 9 kilometers across and takes 3.78 years to complete one orbit around the Sun. The object was discovered on October 26, 1971, by Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek at Hamburg Observatory in Germany, and was given the provisional designation 1971 UM. Many people remember him as the discoverer of the famous Comet Kohoutek in 1973.
Other Asteroids Named After Filipinos
In 2002, high-school teacher Josette Biyo and students Allan Noriel Estrella, Jeric Valles Macalintal, and Prem Vilas Fortran M. Rara were each honored with a minor planet for winning in the 2002 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Louisville, Kentucky.
Their asteroids — 13241 Biyo, 11697 Estrella, 12088 Macalintal, and 12522 Rara, respectively — were all discovered in 1998 by LINEAR, a robotic telescope in Socorro, New Mexico, operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory. It was the MIT Lincoln Lab that proposed the asteroid names to the IAU as part of LINEAR’s community outreach program.
Threat from Space
Edwin stands next to the 34-ton "Ahnighito" meteorite on display at the American Museum
of Natural History in New York City. This iron mass is the largest of the Cape York meteorites
recovered by Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary in Greenland in 1897.
Meteor Crater, Arizona