Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Asteroid Ketelsen???

In my life as an amateur astronomer, I've received a number of awards, mostly for my efforts in public outreach for restarting and continuing the Grand Canyon Star Party for 18 years. Foremost among these is likely the Las Cumbres Award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, a professional society of astronomers. In addition, The Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association has awarded me the Bart Bok award, as well as a service award both for the Canyon event and for my efforts as president of that organization.

My most recent honor is to have an asteroid named for me! Not really a prize, or award, per se, it is mostly a function of who you know! The story starts about a year and a half ago - friends Tom and Jennifer Polakis from Phoenix were spending time in Tucson with friends and asked for a tour of the Mirror Lab where I work. No problem there, I'm glad to show off the Lab to interested parties and do it all the time. This time, their friends were David Healy and Jeff Medkeff - David owns an observatory near Sierra Vista which mostly runs automatically looking for comets and asteroids. Jeff writes the software for taking and reducing the data automatically while unattended. Anyway, the tour was given and thanks to Tom and Jennifer, we have photos!

In particular, the last two are shown here, over the remains of pizza at Zachary's in Tucson. The first shows Jeff, Tom and David Healy, the second shows my friend Roger Ceragioli, Jennifer and me on the right (talking to Melinda, so she is kind of in it too!). David discovers asteroids all the time, and if observed enough for a preliminary orbit and followed for at least 1 trip around the sun, the asteroid receives a permanent number and the discoverer has an opportunity to name them. This particular trip, he had 4 up for naming, 3 of which he named for Roger (133528 Ceragioli), Jennifer(146268 Jennipolakis), and me (124075 Ketelsen). Tom wasn't ignored - he had a low-numbered asteroid already (4078 Polakis). Asteroid numbers are assigned sequentially from number 1 Ceres, discovered in 1801. Automated discoveries have catalogued tens of thousands of these in recent years. "My" asteroid is currently in the constellation Capricornus and is above the horizon low in the south early evenings blazing away at 21st magnitude - perhaps recordable (but not visible) with a 24" telescope and state-of-the-art digital camera... It orbits the sun every 5.37 years between Mars and Jupiter - a pretty tiny rock in the big solar system, but it carries the Ketelsen name!

Sadly, Jeff Medkeff was diagnosed with liver cancer this last spring and died on 3 August. I did not know him well, but was reminded of him while retelling this story - it was the first of 2 instances I spent time with him and was quite impressed. We spent another day with him on a birding trip at Whitewater Draw in southeastern Arizona a few days later. Here he is on the left with Jenn and Tom. His website is still up, and paints a portrait of an interesting and amazing young man, who at 40 years of age, left us much too soon!

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