Astronomer names asteroid after U.

Astronomer names asteroid after U.

(Courtesy of the Bill Dunford/University of Utah)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah has landed its spot among the stars.

An asteroid located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter was officially renamed “Univofutah” by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center in September. It was discovered by Patrick Wiggins, an astronomy educator who requested the name.

“We are very honored,” U. physics and astronomy chairman Carleton Detar said in a statement. “Patrick Wiggins has been a dedicated champion of Utah amateur astronomy. Next, we’ll need student volunteers to install a large block U. on our asteroid.”

Wiggins found the asteroid from his home observatory in Tooele on Sept. 8, 2008, using a 35-centimeter optical telescope. He has previously discovered four other asteroids and a supernova.

Astronomer names asteroid after U.
Photo: Courtesy of the University of Utah

Even though the asteroid was discovered six years ago, it didn’t qualify for a formal name until recently because it needed to be tracked to determine its orbit, according to Wiggins. It was previously known as 391795 (2008 RV77).

He said he originally requested it be named “Univ of Utah” in July, but that it was changed by the astronomical naming organization. The names are limited to 16 characters.

“It’s neat,” Wiggins said. “There aren’t too many other universities on the whole planet with asteroids named after them. So that puts the U. in rather rarefied company.”

The asteroid doesn’t pose any threat to Earth and is about 1.2 miles across, according to Wiggins. The asteroid was about 137 million miles away from Earth when he found it.

More than 655,500 asteroids have been discovered so far, according to the Minor Planet Center.


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