Space Rocks for Two Science Promoters

Bad Astronomy
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July 25 2014 7:30 AM

Space Rocks for Two Science Promoters

Eugeniescott
The asteroid (249530) Eugeniescott seen here in an image taken by NASA's NEOWISE observatory. The asteroid is in the center and circled.

Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech

I am very pleased to say that two of my friends have been honored with asteroids named after them! To give a hint on who they are, the asteroids are (274860) Emilylakdawalla and (249530) Eugeniescott.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Regular readers know both of these people. Emily is a science communicator, blogging for the Planetary Society—in fact, I’ll just redirect you to her thorough and typically excellent post on her asteroid.

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Genie is more than a friend of mine: She’s one of my heroes. I don’t use that term lightly. She unflinchingly defends science against those who would try to tear it down, and she did so for many years as the executive director of the National Center for Science Education. She has done battle with young-Earth creationists and climate change deniers, and was one of the people who won the day in the Dover evolution trial. And while doing all this, she has been calm, genial (perhaps her name is apopros), and even downright friendly.

But don’t mistake that for weakness. She’s tough and has weathered withering attacks from promulgators of anti-science. Her asteroid orbits the Sun out past Mars, and has withstood a billion years of solar wind and impacts from other asteroids.

It seems fitting, doesn’t it?

asteroid eugeniescott
Eugeniescott orbits the Sun well past Mars. She can really hold her breath a long time.

Illustration by NASA/JPL

The idea to name an asteroid after Genie came from Bob Blaskiewicz, a skeptic and, like me, an admirer of Genie. He approached me a while ago asking if it were possible to name a space rock after her. Having friends in high places, I then called Amy Mainzer, principal investigator of NEOWISE, a space telescope that scans the skies looking for asteroids. Amy got right on it, and amazingly it only took a couple of months for the paperwork to go through. Amy’s the best.

So now Emily and Genie join the group of science advocates with asteroids named after them. I’m still tickled to be in that group myself and hope someday to observe my namesake through my own telescope.

It’s a peculiar and wonderful thing to know that hundreds of millions of kilometers away, cold and silent, a rock a kilometer across (in my case, or a few kilometers in the cases of Emilylakdawalla and Eugeniescott) glides through space. Will humans ever venture there some day, centuries hence? Will they wonder why the asteroid they’re visiting has the name it has?

It’s a nice thought. And with Emily and Genie, it’s a wonderful tribute to two people who try—and succeed—to make science available to everyone.

Congrats to them both.

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