Foreword

to the Fifth Edition

People love to name things. Parents name their children. Children name their pets. Why? Otherwise rational human beings put an inordinate effort into this naming activity. Some names are selected to remind the namer of some other person, place or event. In other instances, the choice of a name means something that "sounds good", or is easily spelled. "What's the baby's name?" is much more likely to be asked than some question about its state of health, its weight or the color of its eyes. People are often named according to religious tradition, exemplified in the custom, in some countries, of speaking of a "Christian" name. In other countries, it is a "given" name, often the name of some favored relative, particularly a father, as in the system of patronymics. In some parts of the world a name may be more practical, making it clear that this person is "number one son", for example. But in such a case, why not simply give numbers to the children in order of their birth? One might presume that other animals number their children: take one away, and the mother will realize that the count is wrong, possibly even to the point of knowing precisely which infant has been removed.

The most basic part of speech is a "noun", a word that itself means "name", particularly in its dominant use as the subject, i.e., in the "nominative case". Communication is essential to an intelligent species, and the human race simply would not have advanced if it didn't have, in its numerous languages, generic words for "tree", "bird", "food", "rock", "star" and "computer". One clearly also needs to be specific, introducing further nouns in each of these categories, such as "apple", "kookaburra", "apple", "punk", "quasar" and "apple". But where does that specificity end? Should every individual member of a species, type or class end up with an obscure number or alphanumeric designation? Or should it have a name or descriptor like "The One that Fell Down in the Hurricane Last Week", "The Very Noisy One that Somehow Found its Way into Our Barbecue", "The 10-Meter Cake", "Hope Diamond", "Arcturus" and, well, "Arcturus".

Astronomers named stars - and groupings of stars -long ago. There were truly imaginative names for Arc-turus that translate into English as phrases like "Leg of the Lance Bearer", "Patriarch Mentor of the Train"

(or, in the original Arabic, "Al Harris al Simak"). Nowadays, stars are named, for a fee, and with no obvious benefit to astronomy, by "The International Star Registry" (ISR). After their children have left the roost, and their children's pets have been buried 'neath the apple tree, ordinary people with money to burn can still name stars. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) takes a dim view of the ISR, and the ISR takes advantage of human irrationality. Astronomers, trained to cultivate at least an air of rationality, nowadays give to the objects of their quests more useful labels like "Alpha Bootis", PPM 130442, BD +19°2777, PSR 1257-12 B and GRO J1744-28.

But in the solar system, names still - so to speak -have a place. Galileo knew what he was about when he referred to the "Medician Stars", as did Herschel with "Georgium Sidus". A broader, more traditional view won out, however, and Piazzi's "Ferdinandea" appendix was soon dropped from his choice of a name for the small planet he discovered between Mars and Jupiter. But when it was established that Ceres was not alone, the practice of acknowledging each new discovery with the name of a goddess somehow seemed appropriate and international - at least for discoveries made in different parts of Europe and with the goddess names from the "classical" tradition. But nationalist squabbles quickly arose, and soon the supply of names of classical goddesses was exhausted. Other traditions were tapped, more general female names were used, and the discoverers started concocting feminiza-tions of other names and words. At the same time, the objects were simply given sequential numbers. The advent of photography also brought systems of provisional designations, the use of which greatly facilitated the bookkeeping of linking together independent discoveries of the same object, which could then receive a sequential number. And still the minor planets also received names. In a few cases, the names were inspired mnemonically by the provisional designations; and in a few other cases, particular classes of names were applied to members of particular dynamical classes of minor planets. One could say that such names were helpful. Even when there was no obvious connection, to have both a name and a number could provide some useful redundancy when typographical errors occurred. From time to time, a few astronomers would deprecate the naming practice, but it prevailed, with the various monikers proposed by the discoverers being adopted essentially automatically. Perhaps unlike their colleagues in the star and galaxy businesses, planetary astronomers do evidently cultivate that air of irrationality common to the general population.

Which are my own particular favorites among the names of minor planets? Certainly, I like the ones where there is some particular "connection" between planet and name. Some discoverers have their lists of numberings and the lists of the names they want to use. As each new numbering comes along, they simply apply the next name on the list, whatever interesting characteristics the object may have. Most proposers of names could usefully learn from Paul Wild, veteran Swiss discoverer of minor planets: he gave to the minor planet with provisional designation 1968 HB the name "Swissair", HB being the international designator for that airline now defunct); and the WK in another provisional designation reminded him of the Swiss-German word for annual military exercises, a grueling maneuver through the Alps and - "Hannibal". He gave the name "Cucula" to a rare discovery in May, the month when the cuckoos call incessantly in the woods near his observatory; and the name "Tripaxeptalis" went to minor planet (2037), because 2037 = 3x679 = 7x291 - and given (679) Pax and (291) Alice. If one wants to name a minor planet for the twelfth-century mathematician Fibonacci, the least he can do is ensure that its number is a number in the Fibonacci sequence: so this name was therefore given recently to minor planet (6765).

When the Minor Planet Center was established in 1947, the numbering of minor planets extended to (1564). At a meeting of IAU Commission 20 in 1952 it was remarked that to reach (3000) would represent a "reasonable upper limit". When (3000) was finally reached, in 1984, that remark had clearly been forgotten, and further doubling could be expected in about a decade. When the first edition of the Dictionary of Minor Planet Names was prepared, in late 1991, (5000) had just been numbered. It was then a foregone conclusion that (10000) would be reached around the end of the century. That milestone was in fact reached as early as March 1999, a little more than 198 years after Piazzi first sighted Ceres. Although the suggestion had been made that the number (10000) should be accorded to Pluto, as the first member of the transneptunian belt bearing some affinity to (1) Ceres as the first member of the cisjovian belt, objections were raised, and (10000) was instead named "Myriostos", Greek for ten-thousandth. The first member of the transneptunian belt to be numbered was therefore 1992 QBi (the first of the more recent transneptunian discoveries) as (15760), but it has not yet been named. And although there were predictions that (20000) would not come along until 2004, this number was in fact assigned already at the beginning of 2001 - to the then second-largest independent object in the transneptunian belt, 2000 WR406, named Varuna. Since then the doubling period has shortened to less than 18 months, with the latest second-place transneptunian object, 2002 LM60, becoming (50000) Quaoar late in 2002.

Anticipating the surge of activity that began in the late 1970s, with many more professional and amateur astronomers entering the field, some members of Commission 20 felt that oversight of the names being proposed was desirable. So a committee of three was formed... It grew to a committee of seven, and in 1994 it became the nine-member Small Bodies Names Committee, also taking on the responsibility for naming comets. In 1997 the membership increased to 11, and the Committee was directly attached to IAU Division III, in which Commission 20 was one of six IAU commissions. In 2000 the committee's name was inverted to Committee on Small Bodies Nomenclature, and the membership was increased to 13. Those discoverers whose pet names have been rejected might not agree, but the SBNC has good international representation and has generally acted in a fair and effective manner. The main difficulties arise with names considered "too nearly similar" to others, although a precise definition of what is meant by this has so far been elusive.

Quite as impressive has been the progression of provisional designations. The modern system of these designations was introduced in 1925 with the idea that a simple sequence of letters could be used each half-month, it being considered unlikely that there would be more than 25 new discoveries in any such interval. The first complement of 25 was already achieved in the second half of April 1926 with the assignment of 1926 GZ (the letters I and J being considered the same). Then, in the second half of February 1928 (well, it was a leap year), a 26th discovery was accommodated in the form 1928 DAX and a 30th as 1928 DEX. (The utility of the system is that further designations can be added at any time, and these two halfmonths currently terminate with 1926 GFX and 1928 DKX.) The 58 designations, extending to 1931 TH2, remained a special accomplishment for a long time, particularly when the examination of plates obtained in the continuation of the Pluto search at the Lowell Observatory a few years later took this sequence to 1931 TJ4; at present, it runs to 1931 TR4, not superseded until 1950 TU4. The next record was 1969 TG8, and double digits were reached for the first time three years later with what now stands at 1972 TE11, i.e., a total of 280 discoveries. Of course, these advances are quite artificial, because 1972 also saw the publication of the Palomar-Leiden survey; the latter did not in fact utilize the system of provisional designations, but had it done so, there would have been designations extending to something like 1960 SRg3 - a total of 2092 objects not surpassed until the second half of March 1993, when the designations reached 1993 FUg4. That record remained only until 1998, when the subscripts first reached three digits, new peaks of 1998 FN 149,

1998 HC158 and 1998 SM171. The next year saw

1999 RH258 and 1999 TE328, and the current record is

2000 SE372.

In the first two editions of this Dictionary, more than 80 percent of the then-numbered minor planets had been named. In the third and fourth editions the fractions had dropped to 75 and 63 percent, respectively. But now, for the fifth edition, the fraction is only 20 percent! In November 2002, when the numberings reached (50000), the namings for the first time surpassed 10,000! That is the reason for the publication of the fifth edition of the DMPN at this time. And, understandably in terms of space, this edition restricts itself to documenting just those minor planets that actually have names.

This tailing off in the naming rate has been inevitable. Indeed, some have suggested - and not for the first time - that this curious practice of naming minor planets should be stopped. Others think that, as long as a sizable fraction of the discoverers want to name their finds, it is still reasonable and appropriate to recognize their industry in this manner. The danger is, of course, that future names will become more and more trivial. Yet if the naming is not done by the IAU, in a general cooperation with the discoverers, some "International Asteroid Registry" will surely appear somewhere to carry out the task - undoubtedly for a hefty fee. Not all the minor planets need to be named, they certainly don't have to be named immediately, and the tailing off is not necessarily such a bad thing. The main problem is in fact the preparation of the citations, and in ensuring that they are concise and well written and -yes - interesting to read. Since 1999 the citations have in fact been restricted to four printed lines in the Minor Planet Circulars. Relatively few astronomers seem to have developed the art of writing a good citation. It should not be a "potted biography" or a "travelogue". It should be something that arrests the attention of the reader, perhaps by pointing out some unusual fact about the person or place being honored, or why this particular object is being selected to have that name. International Asteroid Registry or no, the prognosis is that the IAU will accept fewer names for minor planets in the future. The CSBN has already carried out experiments by voting only among the union of the names initially selected by the individual members from those submitted by discoverers during a two-month period, in the hope that only the "best" names would thereby be adopted... The drawback - to discoverers - is that this would tend to discriminate against names of personal significance to them. Another suggestion has been not to name intrinsically faint minor planets unless they have some special dynamical or physical characteristics. The CSBN is currently examining a combination of procedures that could reasonably address perceived unfairness.

As with the earlier editions, the principal responsibility for this volume rests with Lutz Schmadel, who has done a superb job putting together a truly authoritative piece of work. It is not just a catalogue or dictionary in the usual sense. One can in fact read the book like a novel, from beginning to end. In so doing, one could certainly draw some conclusions about the psychology of astronomers. One can also learn a great deal about the world and its customs. The book is also a marvelous source of information about mythology, classical and otherwise.

Cambridge, MA, January 2003

Telescopes Mastery

Telescopes Mastery

Through this ebook, you are going to learn what you will need to know all about the telescopes that can provide a fun and rewarding hobby for you and your family!

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment