Asteroid Named For Columbus State Astrophysics Professor


[caption id="attachment_5379" align="alignright" width="300"]Andrew Puckett, assistant professor of astrophysics Andrew Puckett, assistant professor of astrophysics[/caption]

COLUMBUS, Ga. — The International Astronomical Union recently named an asteroid after Andrew (Andy) Puckett, an assistant professor of astrophysics in Columbus State University’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences.

Puckett, who joined CSU in 2013, tracks and characterizes small bodies in our solar system and has co-discovered more than 40 minor planets or asteroids. Asteroid number 184011, now called Andypuckett, is actually the second solar system body bearing the Puckett name. Asteroid 178226 is officially named Rebeccalouise after Puckett’s wife, Rebecca Puckett, because it was discovered three days before their first wedding anniversary in 2006.

“It’s really fun to discover something, but the idea that you can actually attach a name to something that will be used forever is pretty awesome,” he said.

CSU students in Puckett’s classes this semester will be asked to help come up with names for some of the other celestial objects he has discovered. Turns out, there are some specific rules required by the International Astronomical Union, which vets requests and assigns numbers and names to celestial objects.

“Some objects get lost, but if they continue to get observed for about 5 to 10 years, the object becomes so well known, it gets a name,” Puckett said. “The discoverer is allowed to suggest a name, but you can’t name it after your pet, an active political figure or yourself.”

The provision against naming an asteroid for yourself thwarted his original request to have the asteroid 178226 named Rebeccapuckett, but the request was approved when he only used his wife’s first and middle name.

Almost 10 year later though, he learned that an asteroid was named after him because it was suggested by a colleague, who thought it an appropriate way to honor Puckett’s work in astronomy.

“Knowing that it’s out there as the official name, and if anyone ever studies that object, it will be with my name… well, it feels amazing to have that kind permanency,” he said.