Asteroid tribute to space milestone

The 100,000th asteroid logged in the solar system has been named Astronautica to mark 50 years since the start of the space age.

Asteroid Gaspra from Galileo in 1991The mile-wide space rock was discovered 25 years ago and was previously known simply as 1982 SH1. Astronomer Jim Gibson detected it from Mount Palomar Observatory in California.

It was chosen to mark the space milestone because space is defined by scientists to begin 100,000 meters above the Earth – 62 miles.

The cosmic rock’s new name, which means “star sailor” in Latin, was awarded by the Minor Planet Centre in Massachusetts, the world’s official clearing house for asteroid discoveries. It is led by British scientist Brian Marsden.

He said: “Fifty years ago, a tiny satellite named Sputnik became the world’s first artificial satellite. It seemed only fitting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dawn of the Space Age in some astronomical way.”

He added: “Astronautica is not a particularly unusual object. It just happened to be the 100,000th entry into our database.”

The asteroid is not a threat to the Earth as it stays in an orbit around the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Last month a Nasa mission called Dawn was launched to explore this region’s two biggest inhabitants, Ceres and Vesta.

Astronautica’s name was approved by the International Astronomical Union’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, of which Marsden is a member. Currently, 14,077 asteroids have names while a total of 164,612 asteroids have been identified and numbered.

The picture is not Astronautica, but an asteroid called Gaspra, pictured by the Galileo spaceprobe en route to Jupiter in 1991. Photo: Nasa.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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