The asteroid belt is a collection of minor planets that orbit the Sun in the space between Mars and Jupiter. The belt is comprised of rocks of varying chemical composition from a diameter of about 950 km (the distance between New York City and Cincinnati) for asteroid 1 Ceres down to the size of tiny grains of sand. As our observing power improves, we find more and more of them.
Tens of thousands of objects in the asteroid belt have been designated — the designation is a sequential number and a name suggested by the discoverer. The names given were once based on mythology (as were the other bodies in the solar system) — 1 Ceres, 2 Pallas, 3 Juno, 4 Vesta, 5 Astræa, et cetera.
As more asteroids were discovered, it wasn’t as easy to follow the same naming convention. Places started getting added to the list: 334 Chicago, 341 California, 371 Bohemia, 416 Vaticana, 484 Pittsburghia, 2118 Flagstaff, 3512 Eriepa (yes, that’s Erie, PA).
After a while, discoverers started naming asteroids after respected people: 2001 Einstein, 2002 Euler, 2041 Lancelot, 3534 Sax (after Adolphus Sax, inventor of the saxophone), 3600 Archimedes, 13926 Berners-Lee, 18125 Brianwilson.
I did not know, however, how ridiculous some asteroid names get.
Yes, there’s 2138 Swissair (the airline).
Don’t forget 9007 James Bond, which you think would be related to 13070 Seanconnery, except for the fact that they were discovered a good eight years apart. Also note the last three digits of asteroid 9007 James Bond.
Fans of British comedy will want to observe 13681 Monty Python or 18610 Arthurdent. Sports fans will enjoy 17493 Wildcat (after the University of Arizona’s sports teams) and 8217 Dominichašek.
How about 19367 Pink Floyd? 19383 Rolling Stones? 19521 Chaos? 19535 Rowanatkinson?
My favorite: 20461 Dioretsa. The word “Asteroid” spelled backwards, because of 20461 Dioretsa’s retrograde orbit.
This is my new goal in life: Get an asteroid named after me. In the meantime, I’ll have to dream up something clever. Suggestions go in the comments below.