Although it wasn't visible from the ground without a telescope, asteroid YU55 burst into public consciousness with its close approach to Earth on Tuesday November 8.
Sliding between the earth and the moon, the 1,300-foot-wide YU55 passed about 201,000 miles from Earth—far enough away to pose no threat but close enough to afford NASA scientists at the Deep Space Network antenna in the Mojave Desert a unique chance to scrutinize the hunk of rock as it passed. The moon is 238,856 miles from us.
As it turns out, YU55 is just one of about 150,000 asteroids hurtling around the sun. Only 10 percent of them have names, according to the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Among them are several with American Indian names, said the International Astronomical Union, the Paris-based organization that determines such things.
"Asteroids have been named for everything from famous painters and writers to cities, rivers and even figures of literature. We encourage creativity but we also have a set of guidelines and a proposed name must fall within those guidelines or it’s usually gone," said Don Yeomans, a member of the International Astronomical Union’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory statement. Naming began 1801, when the first asteroid was discovered, the statement said.
Yesterday we brought you three of them—Navajo, Hopi and Pocahontas—and a subsequent search turned up a few more.
"In keeping with astronomical tradition, discoverers of minor planets are accorded the privilege of proposing names for their discoveries," said Gareth Williams, associate director of the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union, the Paris-based organization that oversees the naming of such things. "I'm not sure how many names are derived from Native American sources, but I can add 5460 Tsenaat'a'i, which is (supposedly) the Navajo word for 'flying rock.' "
The others that Williams unearthed:
Asteroid 2270, Yazhi, the Navajo word for 'little one'
Asteroid 3307 Athabasca, Ancestors of the Navajo and Apache
Asteroid 10039 Keet Seel, Prehistoric cliff-dwelling, occupied by ancestors of the Hopi
Asteroid 19407 Standing Bear, Ponca chief, the first American Indian to be granted the rights of a U.S. citizen, and a legal advocate for Natives
Asteroid 145475 Rehoboth, a school that primarily serves Native American families
Below is a short but sweet view of our pet rock. And here is yesterday's account of YU55 fever, with more asteroid links.