UMass Lowell Gains Place in Sky

09/18/2008
By From the Boston Globe

By Erin E. Cahill

At the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the sky is the limit.

Expanding its reach slightly outside the state, UMass-Lowell is now found between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

An asteroid measuring 2.5 to 5.5 miles across has officially been named after the school in honor of its academic and scientific achievements. In August, the International Astronomical Union, or IAU, announced that minor planet No. 7806 has been named Umasslowell.

The asteroid's new name made its debut in the latest edition of the IAU's Minor Planet Center Circular. According to the publication, Umasslowell, which is located 202 million miles from Earth, revolves around the sun at an average distance of 226 million miles and takes 3.8 years to complete one orbit. The asteroid was discovered on Oct. 26, 1971, by Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek at Hamburg Observatory in Germany.

The new name was proposed by Edwin L. Aguirre, a former associate editor of Sky & Telescope magazine who is now the science and technology writer in the Public Affairs Office at UMass-Lowell, and his wife, Imelda B. Joson, Sky & Telescope's former photo editor. The two pitched the idea to the IAU's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature.

The 15-member committee is responsible for naming small bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids and comets.

According to a press release from the university, minor planets have traditionally been named after mythological figures and geographical places, and names are normally chosen by the discoverer.

Proposals for new names must pass the IAU's evaluation process and have to be unanimously approved by the committee.

Out of the 14,700 names awarded by the IAU, only about 300 asteroids are named after institutes, observatories, and universities. UMass-Lowell joins the likes of Princeton University, University of California at Berkeley, Harvard, Brown University, MIT, and Cornell.

According to the press release, the IAU applauds UMass-Lowell for its "pioneering work in such fields as nanotechnology, advanced polymers, life sciences, and radar imaging.