WHAT do Aberystwyth University Physics Lecturer Dr Tony Cook, Scott of the Antarctic, J.R.R Tolkien, John Lennon, James Bond, Sir Christopher Wren, and David Bowie all have in common?
The answer is they have all had asteroids named after them.
Asteroids are irregularly-shaped rocky or metallic objects which orbit the sun, and usually lie in the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. They date from when the rocky planets first started to form.
A few weeks ago, the asteroid formerly known as ‘2003 JO13’ was renamed ‘Tonycook’ in recognition of Dr Tony Cook’s amateur astronomy outreach and planetary topographic mapping work.
Asteroids vary widely in terms of their size, from just a few metres up to a few hundred kilometres. The precise size and shape of the Tonycook asteroid is not known, but it is estimated to be anywhere from 2.8 to 6.3 km in diameter. This equates to somewhere between the size of the towns of Aberystwyth or Shrewsbury.
An amateur astronomer specializing in the Moon, Tony explains: “I was so surprised and honoured to learn that they had named an asteroid after me.
“I didn’t discover the asteroid – it was found by a team of astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey of the University of Arizona, back in 2003. However, there are so many asteroids being discovered all the time, it can sometimes take a while to name them.
“I’m chuffed to have this small lump of rock named after me, and hope that it inspires others interested in space to take up amateur astronomy or study at university.”
There are somewhere between 1 and 3 million asteroids in the Solar System that are larger than 1 km in diameter. Fortunately, very few of them come anywhere near to the Earth. The Tonycook asteroid will never come closer than 190 million km from us – so we are quite safe.