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Astronomers Pray to the Stars for Recovery: Asteroids Named after Disaster-Stricken Prefectures and Other Areas

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The International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced its newly approved asteroid names via the Minor Planet Circular (MPC) issued recently. In connection with the international conference titled “Asteroids, Comets, Meteors (ACM) 2012” scheduled from May 16, 2012 at Toki Messe in Niigata Prefecture, which is the first to be held in Asia, many names closely associated with Japan were approved. This time, in hopes for recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake, names from many seriously-damaged areas were adopted. Included are various related areas' names, ranging from prefecture names such as Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Chiba, Tochigi, to Fukushima Prefecture locations such as Aizu, Nakadori, Hamadori, as well as Rikuzentakata City in Iwate Prefecturem, Sakaemura in Nagano Prefecture, Tsunanmachi in Niigata Prefecture and others. Furthermore, Niigata City, the conference venue, was also adopted. Although there are examples of disaster areas' names being adopted as asteroids' names, such as the asteroid “Tohoku” approved in March 2012, this was the first time for so many disaster areas' names to be adopted.

The list of newly approved asteroid names associated with
areas damaged from the Great East Japan Earthquake
Asteroid Name Image
Images that were successfully taken by Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory
*Images added on Jan. 7, 2013
(14701) Aizu (14701) Aizu
(19534) Miyagi (19534) Miyagi
(19691) Iwate (19691) Iwate
(19701) Aomori (19701) Aomori
(19713) Ibaraki* (19713) Ibaraki
(19731) Tochigi (19731) Tochigi
(20613) Chibaken (20613) Chibaken
(21966) Hamadori (21966) Hamadori
(22719) Nakadori* (22719) Nakadori
(22745) Rikuzentakata* (22745) Rikuzentakata
(22885) Sakaemura (22885) Sakaemura
(22914) Tsunanmachi (22914) Tsunanmachi

Asteroids Named after the Disaster Areas

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the newly approved asteroid names via the Minor Planet Circular issued recently. This time, many names closely associated with Japan, especially those of areas seriously damaged from the Great East Japan Earthquake, were adopted. Included are various prefecture names such as Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Chiba, Tochigi, and also local names from Fukushima Prefecture such as Aizu, Nakadori, Hamadori and so on, as well as Rikuzentakata City in Iwate Prefecture, Sakaemura in Nagano Prefecture, Tsunanmachi in Niigata Prefecture, etc. Although there is the previous example of the asteroid “Tohoku,” approved in March 2012, where a disaster area's name was adopted with the intent of supporting recovery, this is the first time for so many disaster areas' names to be adopted.

Naming Asteroids

In the solar system, there are not only large celestial bodies such as planets, including the Earth, and dwarf planets, but also numerous small ones. These celestial bodies are collectively classified as small solar system bodies. Among them, the stony small celestial bodies are called asteroids and scattered throughout the asteroid belt, which is located between Mars and Jupiter. The naming proposal rights for asteroids are traditionally given to the individuals or groups who discovered the asteroid and made the greatest contribution in observations to determine its orbit. The Small Bodies Nomenclature (SBN) Working Group, which is under the Division III of the International Astronomical Union and consists of professional astronomers, including Syuichi Nakano, a Japanese astronomer, investigates whether proposed names are appropriate. In most cases, many individuals and groups with the naming proposal rights propose their names voluntarily. As in the case of the asteroid “Itokawa,” which was the target of the Japanese asteroid explorer “Hayabusa” (MUSES-C), some groups with the naming proposal rights and the related researchers sometimes propose their appropriate names after mutual consultation.

International Conference Led to Naming Proposal

This time, the international conference titled “Asteroids, Comets, Meteors (ACM) 2012” scheduled from May 16 to 20, 2012 at Toki Messe in Niigata Prefecture, with Professor Sho Sasaki of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan as the chairman of the Scientific Organizing Committee (SOC), led to the adoption of many names closely associated with Japan. This meeting is the largest international conference for solar system small-body researchers, and has been held almost every three years since it started in 1983 in Uppsala, Sweden. At the 2008 ACM meeting in Baltimore, USA, it was decided to hold the upcoming 11th meeting in Asia for the first time, and the chosen venue was Japan. Although it was originally scheduled for July 2011, it was suspended due to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the effects of the subsequent nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. While some opinions that it should be held in another country were voiced, there were stronger opinions for postponing it until the following year, 2012, and holding it in Japan in view of supporting Japan.

Disaster Areas' Naming Background

The organizing committee of this international conference has usually proposed related researchers' names in order to encourage researchers in the field. This time as usual, the organizing committee started by examining candidates who have not yet been adopted for asteroid naming, however in the process, they also promoted disaster areas' names in hopes for their recovery. The Local Organizing Committee (LOC), chaired by Professor Junichi Watanabe of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, made the initial draft, as well as worked out the final draft while in discussion with Edward Bowell of the Lowell Observatory, who is a member of the discovery group which has naming proposal rights. The executive committee proposed prefecture names using districts listed under the Disaster Relief Law of the Great East Japan Earthquake as its base, such as Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Chiba, Tochigi, and local area names in Fukushima Prefecture such as Aizu, Nakadori, Hamadori, as well as Rikuzentakata City in Iwate Prefecture, Sakaemura in Nagano Prefecture, Tsunanmachi in Niigata Prefecture and other places, leading to approval by the International Astronomical Union for use. In line with the intent to support recovery, there is an example of adoption of disaster area name in the asteroid “Tohoku” named in March 2012; however it is the first time that so many disaster area names have been adopted.

Furthermore, other approved names include Niigata, the conference venue, names of Japanese and Asian researchers in this field, and names of Central Asian astronomical observatories that are active in this field. In addition, the names of the following three high schools, Kokura, Ichinomiya and Sanda Shounkan, which support the high school speakers who are supposed to present the study results at the conference, were also approved.

Note: All asteroids were discovered by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) in Flagstaff, Arizona, USA. This project began in 1993 in order to observe near-earth-objects. Naming of these asteroids is officially considered to have been proposed to the International Astronomical Union by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search.

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