Bad Astronomy

10 Rock

Ten years ago tonight, an astronomer found a moving blip in his images. Not long after that, he found another one as well. I don’t know what he was thinking at that moment, though I imagine the thrill of discovery never goes away, no matter how many asteroids you discover, even when the whole idea of the project is to find them.

Initially called 2000 WB63 and 2000 WG11, he later named these asteroids 106537 McCarthy and 165347 Philplait. The first is named after Robynn “Swoopy” McCarthy, and the second… well, that’s obvious enough.

Jeff Medkeff was an astronomer, an educator, a skeptic, and a really decent guy. He contributed to the discovery or monitoring of thousands of asteroids before his untimely death in 2008. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to hang a bit with him at a skeptic conference or two, and I had a really fun conversation with him a few years back, when he wanted to name an asteroid after skeptic Rebecca Watson. It was then he admitted he wanted to name one after me as well; he had assumed that since I’d been a vocal advocate for astronomy for so long, I must already have a namsake asteroid. I didn’t, and so he named 2000 WG11 after me, something that makes me very proud.

He found the rock it on November 23, 2000, and quickly determined it was a main belt asteroid (click to see the orbit), something less than a mile across. It’s faint, but not too hard to observe, as amateur astronomer Rick Johnson showed:

Jeff died long, long before anyone should. But he left a lasting legacy, a solar system a little bit grander and more interesting than it was before he started observing it. For that I thank him, and, of course, for an honor I can only hope to live up to.

Tip o’ the gravity tug to Tim Farley.