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Calvin Names Two More Asteroids
posted April 12, 2007

Two more Calvin-discovered asteroids have been given official names, including one named for a school in New Mexico where Calvin has an observatory and one named for a Calvin graduate who teaches at that school.

Asteroid 145475 was discovered October 12, 2005 by Calvin College professor Larry Molnar and earlier this month was officially named "Rehoboth" in honor of Rehoboth Christian School, just east of Gallup, New Mexico, where Calvin has established a remotely operated observatory on the school's campus.

Says Molnar with a smile: "The school has been very generous sharing their dark, clear southwestern skies with us."

Asteroid 134224 also was discovered by Molnar, on January 6, 2006, and has been named "De Young" in honor of Mike De Young, a teacher at Rehoboth who helped plan and construct the observatory and continues to help in its operation.

"Mike has taught at Rehoboth for 30 years," says Molnar, "and was named in 1995 as one of the nation's outstanding earth science teachers. He runs the school observatory and is the local liaison for the Calvin-Rehoboth Robotic Observatory. He's been a huge help to us and is very deserving of this honor."

These two new named asteroids join asteroids discovered in 2003 and 2004 and named last summer (those two were named Asteroid Spoelhof and Asteroid Griffioen after a former Calvin president and a former Calvin professor).

Molnar notes that when a new asteroid is discovered it is given a provisional name, but that it must be tracked for a number of years to fully establish its orbit before the discoverer is given the privilege of naming it.

"When an object thought to be an asteroid is discovered," he says, "it is logged in at the Minor Planet Center of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and assigned a number indicating its order of discovery."

Once the asteroid's orbit is well-known (a process that often takes two to three years), the International Astronomical Union's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature invites the discoverer to suggest a name and explain the reasons for the naming.

Then it can take another couple of months before the committee approves or rejects the name.

The recent discoveries and names are part of a growing Calvin astronomy program that sees Calvin classes making regular new finds in the heavens. Those finds grow out of a decision in 2003 to purchase new, computer-controlled telescopes thanks to National Science Foundation grant money: one replacing the 1970 instrument in the dome on campus, and a second one placed at a dark-sky site in Rehoboth, able to be operated over the internet by Calvin students.

"These telescopes," Molnar says, "are used for a wide range of observations by students in all astronomy courses, some physics courses and independent research projects. Classroom observations of asteroids have been a featured use since the commissioning of the new telescopes. Our goal is for students to understand better how real science works by aiming for a new discovery. As far as we know this is the only astronomy class in the world in which discovery of a new solar system object is a regular assignment."

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