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Minor Planet Williamon (45298)




Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF


An Honorable Mention

Just a few nights into the 21st century (2000), I was fortunate to be able to spend time with the telescope (a 16in LX200 with an SBIG ST8 CCD camera at Kitt Peak National Observatory) and scan the sky looking for asteroids. In the course of the programs that I hosted at Kitt Peak, finding uncatalogued asteroids was not an uncommon occurrence. What made this night different was that asteroids were the goal of the observations and not serendipitous,cosmic players that would often strut across the field that I was working on. Normally if I found an asteroid in the vista I was trying to capture, I would check the database of the Minor Planet Center and see if it was new, interesting, or just an oft seen old friend. Then, like a fisherman with a size restriction, I had to let the asteroids swim away back into the darkness of space. In order to have the Minor Planet Center designate an asteroid with a number, it needs to be followed up with successive multi-night observations. This is something I could rarely do.

The animation shown above is the discovery image of an asteroid I did not let go. During these nights the moon was nearly full which allowed me to follow the asteroid since the telescope was not in use. Indeed, the recovery image was taken a few nights later during the brightest full moon this century has seen. In the subsequent months and year(s) further observations were taken to refine the calculated orbit to a precision that permitted the discoverer (me) the opportunity to name this reclusive rock that orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Yes, that small gray smudge that shifts a mere few pixels in the blinking image is a place out there- and I gave it a name.

Asteroids are given names that honor not the discoverer, but instead another deserving person. The official circular, in typical scientific brevity, states who the person is and what they are known for. However, below you will find my personal citation that honors the astronomer that influenced me strongly as a young man. His name is Dr. Richard Williamon, of Emory University in Atlanta Georgia, and I was lucky enough to be able to personally present him with the following in February of 2006:

Discovery date : 2000 01 05
Discovery site : Kitt Peak National Observatory
Discoverer: Adam Block.

Dr. Richard Williamon has spent his life teaching and doing public outreach within the field of astronomy. He graduated with a PhD in astronomy from the University of Florida in 1972. Thus, he has made a career in astronomy for as long as I have been alive.

Personally I have been interested in astronomy since my earliest memories. As a child my first experience with a professional astronomer was with Dr. Williamon at Fernbank Science Center. He was the director of the observatory and ran the public evening programs there. And so, my first impression of an astronomer was that of a person sharing their knowledge and passion about something they enjoy.

As I grew I cultivated my interest in science and astronomy by seeking special classes and opportunities. During my high school years I was fortunate to be a volunteer for the observatory's public nights under his auspices. As a senior, I took an independant class with him and once again respected his quiet, confident, and comforting teaching style.

Later in college and my subsequent 9 years at KPNO I have certainly experienced the full spectrum of many types of astronomers and scientists with an assortment of passions and agendas. However, for me Dr. Williamon's warm persona and encouraging outlook for his students translated into a well-founded foothold on my path to a career in this field. Indeed, his attributes I admired most, are the ones I strive to reflect in the public presentations I give today. I hope I can exert the same kind of positive influence for someone else in the same way he did for me.

For these reasons, I wish to honor him by giving the asteroid I found his name. In some connected way he should share in the discovery.


The above diagrams are courtesy of NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Program. On this site you can actually see asteroid Williamon and its orbital motion about the Sun!
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