A smattering of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter have been named after Ottawa-area astronomers.
On Nov. 8, the International Astronomical Union’s naming working group for small bodies released the new names of 40 asteroids — something it does about once a month.
In this bunch Ottawa-area astronomer Roger Hill recognized all the names, including his own. A handful of asteroids were named after amateur Ontario astronomers who’d worked with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
Those included Kim Hay, president of the Kingston, Ont., centre of the society, Hill, who was on the board of the Hamilton, Ont., centre for decades, and Brian McCullough — whose asteroid was named in October’s list — volunteered with the Ottawa centre.
Hill was nominated more than three years ago by his fellow astronomers in Hamilton for his work on the board, editing the society’s newsletter and in public outreach.
“I’d check maybe once a year just to see if my name had been added to the list. But alas, I was not immediately after Roger Federer, who has one as well. So, I gave up looking,” he said.
That changed last week and Hill said he was “over the moon about it.”
“This is a lifelong dream to have a piece of the solar system named after me. It’s not something I ever expected and I’m incredibly grateful,” he said. “It’s really nice to be recognized, particularly by one’s peers.”
Hill got his first telescope when he was 10 years old. Kids, he says, are fascinated by the big numbers of space and he felt compelled to share the feeling that staring at the stars can put “body and soul back together again.”
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‘Right on the edge of observation/imagination’
When Hill negotiated where to move during retirement, his only request to his wife: dark skies. The two settled in Cardinal, Ont., about an hour south of Ottawa.
From this location, he expects it will be about six months before his asteroid is hopefully visible.
The asteroid is six kilometres in diameter and takes just over four years to orbit the sun. It’s 300,000 times fainter than the eye can see, so not particularly bright.
Even with his observatory and a telescope with a mirror 30 centimetres in diameter, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to see it, but he’s hoping a long exposure picture taken with the aid of the telescope will be able to capture it.
Unlike Hill, McCullough wasn’t aware the Ottawa centre had nominated him and hearing about the asteroid called (10059) McCullough = 1988 FS2 was a complete surprise.
He first became enamoured with astronomy as a navigator with the Royal Canadian Navy in the 1970s.
“I was so thrilled and so enthusiastic to learn more all the time. I couldn’t contain myself and I had to share it with others,” he said.
He’s spent many years bringing out his telescope for community groups and Girl Guides and looks forward to returning to it once pandemic measures allow.
McCullough says the recognition for his service makes him emotional, even more important than having his name “hanging on an asteroid.”
His daughter is an astrophysicist and was able to look up the particulars of his asteroid. He told CBC Radio’s All In A Day she was able to find out the asteroid was one of four picked at random from 1,700 possibilities.
“The reason they chose this one is because it doesn’t vary in its brightness, very much, so they can use it kind of like a standard hanging in the asteroid belt to compare comets against,” McCullough said.
It’s very dim, according to McCullough, only reflecting 20 per cent of the sunlight that hits it, comparable to Pluto, which he says he’s been able to see with his telescope.
“This would be right on the edge of observation/imagination [with a backyard instrument], you could just barely see it.”
His asteroid is one of just under 23,000 that have been named in the asteroid belt, of which there are more than a million with a diameter of more than one kilometre.