What do Christopher Columbus, The Beatles and the Smithsonian Institution have in common? They all have asteroids named after them. Now the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has joined the ranks of places and people whose names appear on minor planets, as the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has named an asteroid in honor of the university.
Asteroid 271,763 was discovered by Dr. David H. Levy and Wendee Levy from Arizona, and Tom Glinos from Canada.
David Levy is a Canadian astronomer and science writer, famous for his co-discovery of the Comet Shoemaker- Levy 9 which collided with Jupiter in 1994 – the first collision of two solar system bodies ever observed.
He had wanted to name an asteroid after the university since completing a PhD at its English Department in June 2010. His dissertation explored the relationship between the night sky, and the works of Shakespeare and other writers in the early modern period of English literature.
The IAU’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature is charged with approving names for asteroids (also known as minor planets) and comets. After rejecting the originally proposed name “Hebrewuniversity” as too long, the committee later accepted the informal nickname “Hebrewu,” and the asteroid’s name was announced on November 2.
In his initial outreach to the university, Levy congratulated the school on “being one of the few universities to be honored with a world in space.... Perhaps someday the university, which I am proud to call an alma mater, will be able to put this new piece of real estate to good academic use. In the meantime, it is a world with sunrises and sunsets, much smaller but similar to our own.”
Hebrew University president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson said the university was “delighted by Dr. Levy’s extraordinary gesture and proud to join the exclusive list of institutions whose names are recorded among the stars. [The] gesture aptly symbolizes the Hebrew University’s ambition to break through the limits of knowledge and research.”
Only a few asteroids have been named for people or places in Israel, including Jerusalem, astronaut Ilan Ramon, and writer and satirist Ephraim Kishon. It is estimated that fewer than 20 universities worldwide have an asteroid named after them.
Located in the asteroid belt between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter, Hebrewu poses no threat to Earth and is not expected to draw near any time soon.
Levy has been called “the rock star of amateur astronomers.” One of the most successful comet-finders in history, he has discovered or co-discovered 22 comets – nine of them using his own backyard telescopes – and more than 150 asteroids.
He is involved with the Jarnac Comet Survey based at the Jarnac Observatory, which Wendee Levy directs, and is president of the National Sharing the Sky Foundation, which aims to inspire new generations to develop an interest in the sciences.
Wendee Levy is also the foundation’s secretarytreasurer.
Glinos, an amateur astronomer, has been in the field for almost 25 years and is active with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada