Asteroid named after Chilean scientist soars through the cosmos

Astronomer Mario Hamuy admitted that when he first saw the 3-mile-wide rock, he was afraid it could be on a collision course with the Earth.


Imagine a ball of rock tearing through the wastelands of space at unimaginable speeds, which may or may not be heading towards our Earth – and bearing your very own name. Chilean astronomer Mario Hamuy knows exactly how that feels.

As of March 2011, an asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter will be renamed “Hamuy”, in honor of the director of the Universidad de Chile’s Astronomy Department.

Scientists discovered the asteroid, then less-romantically named Object 109097, on August 19 2001, orbiting at a distance of around 350 million miles from the sun. If, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, you found yourself trotting round its surface, it would take around an hour to do a full loop.

The name “Hamuy” was given by Rafael Ferrando, director of the Spanish Pla d’Arguines observatory, where the asteroid was discovered. Ferrando said he had “learnt much from Dr. Hamuy’s publications,” highlighting the well-known Supernovas: The Explosive End of a Star, which Hamuy co-authored.

The Chilean scientist said he felt “very flattered by the honor Rafael Ferrando bestowed on me after he read my book.”

He also admitted he had been relieved to see that the rock had not turned out to be on a collision course with earth. “For a moment,” he said, “my greatest concern was that it might be a killer asteroid. But seeing its orbit pass far from the earth has left me feeling a lot calmer.”

Hamuy is visible from the southern hemisphere, and is currently in the constellation Gemini, which can be seen using amateur telescopes.