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Rock legends: naming planets

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The name of a planet, moon or asteroid has no objective scientific significance whatsoever. A name for a celestial object is a subjective human invention which serves only to help scientists remember what they are communicating about. A name is the product of the human imagination and the names of planets have a human significance, for the discoverer, for his or her colleagues and for the wider community. Some names evidence hero-worship, sycophancy, avarice, vanity, whimsy, erudition and wit, revealing the human side of astronomers, especially where controversy has followed the christening.

I was drawn into this subject by having an asteroid named after me. Asteroid 128562 Murdin is made of sandy rock, far away, orbiting somewhere in the space between the planets Mars and Jupiter, and only about 2 km in diameter. I started to wonder how its christening had happened and why I was so pleased, and this is what I found…

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term series.

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