BAsteroid

By Phil Plait | March 25, 2008 8:01 am

It is with great honor and no small amount of pride to announce that the asteroid 2000 WG11 shall henceforth be known as asteroid 165347 Philplait.

That’s right: I now have an asteroid named after me.

My friend, fellow astronomer, fellow skeptic, and fellow blogger Jeff Medkeff discovered the asteroid in 2000. It was given the preliminary designation of 2000 WG11, and Jeff had the privilege of naming it, and the short version is he decided it was my time.

The asteroid is about 1.3 km (0.8 miles) across, making it rather small as asteroids go. Because of that (and its current distance of 450 million kilometers) it’s a bit faint, shining right now at about magnitude 21. That’s within reach of a 12" telescope with a nice CCD detector on it, but you won’t be seeing this with your birdwatching binocs.

I don’t have any images of it… yet. It’s listed in the Minor Planet and Comet Ephemeris Service; put "Philplait" into the big text box and it will give you the coordinates of the asteroid (it’s currently in the constellation of Aries). You can see where it is in the solar system on the JPL Small Body Database Browser. Here is the map for today:

As you can see in the map, it’s a main belt asteroid, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. It can’t impact the Earth (too bad, since that would be pretty good publicity for Death from the Skies!; I’d sell a million books — plus, the headlines would read "Philplait to Destroy the Earth!" which is awesome). If it could hit us, it would have an impact yield of at least 35,000 megatons, which is a lot, and could easily be a lot more (I’m assuming here that the minimum impact speed is 11 km/sec, Earth’s escape velocity; it could in fact be much higher). This probably would not cause an extinction level event for humans, but it wouldn’t be fun either. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was from a rock more then 8 times the diameter of 165347 Philplait* and 500 times the mass.

To give you an idea of the asteroid’s size, it has more than 200 times the volume of Hoover Dam. Assuming that it’s made of rock, it has a mass of about 2 quadrillion grams, or about 2 billion tons. If it’s metal it’ll be about twice that massive.

The orbit is mildly eccentric, which means it’s not a perfect circle. It gets as close as about 300 million km from the Sun and as far as 400 million km (180 to 240 million miles). This keeps it well outside the orbit of Mars and well inside Jupiter’s. It’s a nice, safe, rock.

I would say having this rock named after me is a singular honor, but in fact it isn’t: three other skeptics join me in the asteroid belt: Rebecca Watson, Michael Stackpole, and, yes, PZ Myers.

Now, I know my readers, and I know what you’re thinking: whose asteroid is bigger, mine or PZ’s? I asked Jeff that as well, but first I need to take a little diversion into sizes of asteroids.

Asteroids in the main belt are in general too small and too far away to see them as anything other than unresolved dots. So we can’t measure their size directly. Instead, it’s inferred. Imagine two asteroids at the same distance from us, but one is bigger than the other. Since it has more surface area, it reflects more sunlight, and will appear brighter to us. However, the reflectivity of the asteroid also determines its brightness: a shiny white asteroid will be a lot brighter than one the same size that’s soot black. The reflectivity of an asteroid is called its albedo. Something that reflects 100% of the incoming light has an albedo of 1, while something pitch black would have an albedo of 0.

So the size of an asteroid is calculated using its distance and assuming an albedo. On average, asteroids have an albedo of about 0.15, so that’s what usually assumed. It’s also assumed that the asteroid is a sphere, which may not be true. In fact, only asteroids hundreds of miles across are spherical, so one a mile across can be any sort of weird shape.

So assuming the asteroid has an albedo of 0.15 and that it’s round, it’s about 1.3 kilometers in diameter. It could be shinier and smaller, or darker and bigger, or elongated and bigger, or or or. Until we go there and take a look we won’t know.

Having said all this, I’ll note that all things being equal, PZ’s asteroid (153298 Paulmyers) is twice the diameter of mine. Sigh. Figures. However, I’m not insulted. In fact I think PZ is overcompensating for something. Still and all, we don’t really know how big they are, but his being bigger is the safe way to bet.

Even if I must share this honor with PZ (and there better be a species of squid named after me soon to make up for this) it is still a great one. I wonder… some time in the distant future, will some astronaut mine this asteroid? Will it be someone’s home, or will it be just another rock among billions, silently orbiting the Sun?

Either way, this is totally amazing. It’s a little slice of immortality, and one I am truly touched to receive.


*I have to admit, it’s fun to write that.

Comments (86)

  1. stoner

    w0000t w0000t! congrats, BA. well deserved! :)

  2. Michael Lonergan

    Congratulations, Phil! I guess that star I bought to put my name on is worthless, eh? :)

    I’m not concerned about who has a bigger rock, I’m more concerned about who’s rock is more likely to hit us. My money is on PZ’s.

  3. “Yes, now YOU TOO can have an asteroid named after you, just contact the International Asteroid Registry at 1-800-IMA-FOOL”.

    ;)

    Don’t worry, BA, there’s medicine that’ll clear that up…oh ASTERoid, not…

    Also, that headline comes AWFULLY close to a ‘forbidden’ word… based on a term referring to a child with unmarried parents.

    Okay.. got all that off my chest, back to bed.

    J/P=?

  4. Gnat

    Congrats, Phil!

  5. Christine Pulliam

    Hooray for Phil! That’s really neat. I must admit to a small amount of jealousy.

    Think you’ll get to visit your namesake someday?

  6. Tom

    Congrats, Phil. You also join the ranks of George Takei and Mr. Rogers.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/26858_Misterrogers

  7. Stuart (10153) Goldman

    Welcome to the club! My rock’s bigger than yours!!

    Once I was able to obtain a photo of my asteroid (thanks to a coworker), I had a bunch of plaques made up to give to other Goldmans in my family. Dad was quite pleased.

  8. J_w23

    Can you ask Jeff next time he discovers an asteroid to put my name on it? :-P

  9. Todd

    Congrats, Phil! And remember, it’s not the size of the asteroid that matters, it’s how one uses it.

  10. Spiv

    in the very least PZ’s shines brighter than yours. Don’t worry Phil, I still read your blog more than his.

    Wish I had my telescope online (been distracted by that “work” thing), I’d set up to image it for you. Will probably be months before I can do such a thing though.

  11. Wow! Congrats!

    “This is the kind of spontaneous publicity, you’re name in print, that makes people. I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.”

    Navin R. Johnson

  12. Michael Lonergan

    John Paradox,
    A number of years ago, when I lived in Edmonton, the Edmonton Space Science Center offered a deal where you could pay X amount of dollars, and get a star named after you. I think I put my ex wife’s name on one. Hey, I wonder if that just happened to be the GRB that just went off?

  13. That was a great post! Geeze, I’m still chuckling. Well done!

    Congratulations on your well-deserved mark in the heavens.

    — Scott

  14. Jeff

    Great! Just one more thing to inflate that head of yours, a big co err, rock.

    Congrats BA!

  15. Congrats, Phil.

    Quite the thrill, isn’t it? I don’t think i’ve stopped smiling since I got the call.

    I called my parents to warn them. My mom wondered when I’d be building a home there. She likes that 165612 (aka Stackpole) has a good view of Mars.

    Mike

  16. Stark

    Now all we need is a Hoagland asteroidette, we’ll see who’s really small! ;)

  17. rob

    hmm…the asteroid description says it’s orbit is “mildly eccentric.”

    do people start to resemble their asteroids or is that limited to pets?

    :)

  18. Yoshi_3up

    Excellent, Phil, congratulations!

    Now, if by the reasons of chance, this gets to hit Earth, I won’t know who to blame, the asteroid, or you :lol:.

  19. KC

    Putting aside a number of puns, congratulations. You now have official confirmation that you rock . . .

    That was a great explanation of a working estimate to determine the size. And . . . let’s see . . . is the eccentricity about 0.143? That would put it less than Mercury but more than Ceres.

  20. Shoeshine Boy

    Old boys club…grumble grumble ;-)

  21. Awesome Phil! CONGRATULATIONS!! You really, really deserve it.

  22. Celtic_Evolution

    Wow… the best thing I’ve ever even given my own WIFE is a pair of decent diamond earrings.

    Is Ms. BA concerned about this? ;)

  23. Congratulations with your asteroid! Really, I’m not jealous, snif snif… Magnitude 21 did you say? Mmmm, out of range for my Meade ETX-70 :-)

    Grz, from The Netherlands.

  24. Mike J.

    congrats phil!

    Next, we all need to chip in some money, and buy a plot on the moon, and create a community park that honors phil’s debunking of Hoaglands “glass buildings” and “moon bases”… ;^)

    Actually, it could be done–

    If you really want to have some fun with it, you could setup a site for this newly discovered object just like TU24, make a totally unrealistic youtube animation, and add some scary music… muhahah

    curious… what kind of optics is he using— what kind of telescope? Where is it located etc..

    looked on his blog, and theres not too much info on that…

  25. Rowsdower

    Congratulations! This is better than that stupid “name a star” thingie I keep hearing about on the radio.

  26. Mike J.

    nevermind, I found it… nice setup!

    Jeff Medkeff:

    “I was involved day-to-day in an asteroid observing program in southern Arizona, at an observatory bearing the peculiar name Junk Bond Observatory. Its name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the way it was financed, but it is a serious place, with robotic 0.4 and 0.8 meter (16 inch and 32 inch) telescopes devoted to research every clear night.

    On the night of November 23, 2001, I was sitting in the cold at the 16? instrument,
    .”

  27. Carey

    James Randi once bragged to Arthur C. Clarke about the respective sizes of their asteroids, so you and PZ are in good company.

    http://www.randi.org/joom/swift/swift-march-21-2008.html#i1

  28. James Randi says his asteroid is bigger than Arthur C. Clarke’s is. Now you have one to compare with too!

    But it isn’t the size that’s important. That’s what people keep telling me, anyway.

    Regardless, you’ll have to invite us all over to your asteroid once you finish decorating it.

    By the way, what’s with the “165347”? Isn’t PhilPlait good enough or are there 165346 other asteroids named PhilPlait?

  29. Wow, congratulations Phil!

  30. > Now, I know my readers, and I know what you’re thinking: whose asteroid is bigger, mine or PZ’s? I asked Jeff that as well, but first I need to take a little diversion into sizes of asteroids.

    Didn’t have to read anymore than that to know the answer.

    ;)

    Congrats!

  31. Michelle

    That. Is. SO COOL.
    Congratulations! You deserve it!

  32. Having said all this, I’ll note that all things being equal, PZ’s asteroid (153298 Paulmyers) is twice the diameter of mine.

    Don’t worry. Just launch a rocket with a large tube of “Preparation A” and shrink his asteroids down to nothing.

  33. DrFlimmer

    Congratulations!

    But while you are reaching out into space, now, don’t lose the ground beneath your feet ;)
    Oh, and maybe you should call some astrologers, if your future is somehow linked to your asteroid :-D

  34. alfaniner

    Bet you’ll think twice now before playing that old Asteroids video game again, huh?

    Congrats!

  35. Moose

    JamesRandi is still bigger.

  36. Katrina

    Congratulations, Phil!
    I hope you get to see it……

    Katrina

  37. KaiYves

    You (litterally) rock!

  38. Sili

    Of course PZed’s is bigger – they need extra room for all those tentacles once they carve his likeness into it.

    Congrats!

  39. allkom

    My very sincere congratulations . It´s the first time I enter the comments though I follow your blog for long time . I think this ads for the relevance of the ocasion . You realy deserve it .

  40. Quiet Desperation

    I am *so* going to take it over.

    Now all I need is a spacecraft to deliver my troops. And some troops.

  41. allkom

    sorry if my grammar is kind of rusty . I´m from Brazil and ain’t practicing english writing for a time . Nevertheless my congratulations are sincere all the same .

  42. Quiet Desperation:

    Careful about the troops you get. Tou might end up with these.

  43. Congratulations! Too bad it isn’t headed for the Kansas Creationist Museum… ;-)

  44. David D.G.

    Congratulations, Phil! You da man, and now you da asteroid, too!

    ~David D.G.

  45. Stripe

    Congrats! Now you need to send a small robot probe to “decorate” it with a BA flag.

  46. Chas

    Congratulations.

    Are there ever going to be any occultations? We could get a good idea of its size that way

    Or the Martian Maggot could claim it in the name of Mars

  47. OMG! PHILPLIAT IS GOING TO DESTROY ALL OF HUMANITY!!!!111

    Congrats! That’s awesome!

  48. He should have named it “The Bad Asteroid”.

    But seriously, this is AWESOME! Mange gratulasjoner!

  49. Inertially Guided

    NOW you can show those idiots that made ‘Armageddon’ how it’s REALLY done!!

    Congrats, Phil–couldn’t happen to a nicer carbon-unit!

    Tom

  50. Todd W.

    Alright, so who is going to get a picture of the BA’s book on the BA’s asteroid?

  51. BlondeReb3

    Congratulations Dr. BA! You must be so proud! :-)

  52. Congratulations, BA. And your asteroid isn’t really small — think of it as being several times the size of the Empire State Building.

  53. bearcub

    Good on ya Phil. That’s really cool. *jealous*

  54. I’d like to point out that Rebeccawatson is approximately 4.3 km, bigger than Philplait and Paulmyers put together.

    HA HA!

    Seriously though, the four of us need matching t-shirts.

  55. Excellent! Congratulations!

  56. Michael Lonergan

    Todd W.:
    Alright, so who is going to get a picture of the BA’s book on the BA’s asteroid?

    I nominate sending Hoagland out there!

  57. get a star named after you. I think I put my ex wife’s name on one. Hey, I wonder if that just happened to be the GRB that just went off?

    If so, could you get a refund?

    J/P=?

  58. Congrats! Woohoo, that’s awesome!

  59. Chip

    Congratulations Phil! Congratulations to Watson, Stackpole and Myers too!

    The “orbit is mildly eccentric.” This is apropos, as Phil and many of his readers, including myself, are too. That is to say, we’re orbiting the Sun, and we’re mildly eccentric. ;)

    Since it won’t come by Earth (boosting book sales,) maybe someday someone could pay the Russians to place a copy of Bad Astronomy on it. Then you’d have the ultimate “Where has the BA book been?” photo!

    BTW – though it appears that 153298 Paulmyers is larger, this could be an illusion caused by unusually elongated rocky appendages (like tentacles) from a smaller body. 153298 Paulmyers might even have a small satellite, which could be called Zoidberg.

  60. Illucian

    Congratulations! A well-deserved honor.

  61. Michael Lonergan

    BA said:

    “If it could hit us, it would have an impact yield of at least 35,000 megatons, which is a lot, and could easily be a lot more (I’m assuming here that the minimum impact speed is 11 km/sec, Earth’s escape velocity; it could in fact be much higher). This probably would not cause an extinction level event for humans, but it wouldn’t be fun either.”

    In which case, I’d say it would suck to be you.

  62. Michael Lonergan

    John Paradox:
    Like my marriage, I think the Warranty pretty well expired on that purchase… ;)

  63. Wow! Very cool Phil! :-)

  64. Hank

    What an incredibly awesome gift!

  65. Quiet_Desperation

    Careful about the troops you get. Tou might end up with these.

    Good lord, no! For low gee, vacuum assault work? Robot troops all the way.

  66. Nino Ponzio

    congratulations Philplait!

  67. Now we just need some intrepid astronaut to go take a picture with the BA book in front of the asteroid. That would be cool.

  68. RoaldFalcon

    I’ve always thought you were a wanna-be media ho. That opinion was increased when you tried to bait Colbert. Now you have just said, “the headlines would read ‘Philplait to Destroy the Earth!’ which is awesome”. That makes you the worst wanna-be media ho I have ever read!

    Congratulations anyway!

    And I hope you get all the fame you crave–without destroying the earth!

  69. Stuart (10153) Goldman
  70. L. Nielsen

    You deserve it, Phil! You are a great defender and promoter of science, critical thinking and reason.

    Tillykke!

  71. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    shinier and smaller, or darker and bigger,

    In other words, you can never win over the bank.

    I’m a bit concerned over the mindset displayed here – why would destruction be the first use that comes to mind? I would rather smash it to small pieces and place them orbiting Earth, to prevent the global warming. Baring that it would make a fine observation post if you park it at a Lagrange point close by.

    Btw on your new property and its current location, do you have a schedule for when space buses go the beltway?

  72. MandyDax

    Wow. Just… Wow. That’s so sweet (in multiple definitions of the word)! As others have done, let me congratulate you.

    Of course I think it would be fairly logical to say that, albedo and distance being equal, asteroids discovered earlier are more likely to be larger. The greater surface area makes them brighter, and thus easier to spot. Don’t worry that your asteroid is smaller; it just makes it all the more special. :)

    @Stark:

    Now all we need is a Hoagland asteroidette, we’ll see who’s really small!

    Well, I think there are many perfect Earth satellites that we could name after him. Y’know how they used to (do they still?) flush the human waste directly into space where it freezes into micrometeors? I propose we find a nice big piece of it and call it #2richardhoagland.

  73. Mark

    So if Paulmeyers has a near collision with Philplait, sending Philplait into an Earth collision orbit, who gets the blame?

  74. madge

    This SO beats the bogus “Buy an acre of land on the Moon” that was offered in a recent magazine! How awesome, and well deserved Phil. Congratulations! Size doesn’t matter (she lied ; )

  75. adrian

    Now the question is which asteroid will be picked first by the doomsayers: yours or PZs, prolly PZs since it’s bigger :)

  76. The IAU wouldn’t let someone name it BAsteroid, would they?

    You can, in principal, get the size and shape of the object by watching a background star wink out. Multiple timings of random stars should give pretty good data, eventually. A line of scopes could even get the shape of the beast. Of course, if the minimum scope is 16″ with tracking drives and CCD, a whole bunch of them in a line might be very expensive. And such instruments are often less than portable, so a BAsteroid star party might be out of the question.

    There should be lots of 16th mag stars. Is it enough for frequent occulations?

  77. Messier Tidy Upper

    Awesome BA you (have a) rock! Very apt & well deserved. :-) 8)

  78. Click on my name for a recent BA blog update on the Bad Astronomers great asteroid incl. a video showing it crossing the sky :

    10 Rock posted on November 23rd, 2010 10:04 AM

    On the off chance anyone will visit here, scroll all the way down the comments & see this again.. ;-)

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