Known across the world as the premier destination for astronomy, Chile is often mentioned in the same breath as discoveries of all types, but the latest find to capture the headlines was made thousands of miles away from the Andean nation’s famously clear skies.
Spanish amateur stargazer Rafael Ferrando discovered an asteroid and decided to name it after one of the greats of the field he admired most: Universidad de Chile astronomer and winner of the National Prize for Exact Sciences, José Maza.
His discovery, “Maza,” is an asteroid approximately 2 miles in diameter and orbits the sun at a distance varying between 200 million and 310 million miles.
While the find was made several years earlier, experts only confirmed Ferrando’s proposed name in early 2014. Since the initial discovery, the Spaniard has made many more finds but, he says, there is something special about his asteroid sighting.
“The first few finds are those that you cherish with passion because each one was an odyssey,” Ferrando explained. “I named it ‘Maza’ because so much of what I have learned in this field came from the book ‘Supernovas’ written by him and another Chilean astronomer, Mario Hamuy.”
Maza expressed the unique and peculiar honor of having a several mile-wide chunk of rock named after him.
“It’s strange to think that in a few more years when I’m no longer hear and only exist as a vague the memory of family and friends, the Maza asteroid will continue its inexorable course around the Sun,” mused the astronomer.
Thankfully, the asteroid’s position — between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter — means it is no threat to Earth. According to the Chilean astronomer, though, a little bit of galactic drama wouldn’t go amiss.
“If the asteroid had a close encounter with another object it could change trajectory and potentially move towards the Earth,” Maza explained. “I don’t want it to hit us, but a little scare would make it famous…”