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Asteroid near Jupiter named after Sonoma State

  • Image courtesy of news.sonoma.edu

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
December 29, 2017

Sonoma State University now has a place to call its own 365 million miles away from Rohnert Park in our own solar system after an asteroid between Jupiter and Mars was named after the University Wednesday evening by the department of physics and astronomy.

The asteroid named after SSU was formerly named “25164 Sonomastate” and is located in the asteroid belt — the famed disc of asteroids and left over shattered rock from the creation of our solar system that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, orbits our sun once every 3.6 years.

The SSU asteroid is only about two miles in size and was discovered by astronomer Larry Wasserman in 1998, according to a Sonoma State press release. Wasserman, a renowned astronomer, received his doctorate in 1973 from Ivy League, Cornell University and has been an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona where he studies bodies in the solar system. His other work includes the study of binary stars using the Hubble Telescope with study partner emeritus astronomer Otto Franz.

Since Wasserman was the one to locate the tiny celestial object, it gave him to ability to suggest a name for the asteroid to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). It was then that SSU Professor Emeritus Joseph S. Tenn, who taught in the department from 1970 to 2009, suggested the name to Wasserman, putting SSU on the night sky map for all to see. 

Earlier last week, Chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department, Lynn Cominsky, who holds a doctorate, was notified that the suggested name was officially designated by the IAU. 

In a statement Cominsky said of the special naming, “I think it is incredibly exciting that Sonoma State’s contributions to space science are being recognized by this naming.”

Last year the University’s physics and astronomy department also made news when Professor Cominsky’s team discovered gravitational waves. Last February for the first time, her and her team of scientists observed ripples of space-time, also known as gravitational waves, which finally reached the Earth following a cataclysmic celestial event way out in the universe. 

This was also such a monumental moment for the department since these gravitational waves can carry information about the beginning origins of gravity. According to an article about the discovery on news.sonoma.edu, “Physicists have concluded that the detected 

‘Asteroid’ See Page 6

gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive, spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.”

The discovery also confirmed famous theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity. As reported in the same article by SSU News, Gabriela Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the astronomy department at Louisiana State University said of the 2015 discover, “This detection is the beginning of a new era: The field of gravitational wave astronomy is now a reality.”

Following the official naming of the asteroid a web citation on NASA mentioned SSU as, “A nationally recognized Education and Public Outreach program for space missions and STEM teacher education and its physics students have built a successful Cubesat” satellite.”

To view celestial objects in the night sky, such as the “sonomastate” asteroid, you can attend one of their public viewing nights at their new observatory. While the fall 2017 viewing nights scheduled days are over for the season, the new year is expected to come with a new schedule for free viewing nights. To keep updated on the observatory and the department, visit, phys-astro.sonoma.edu.