Asteroid named after Kiwi astronomer Michele Bannister

Dr Michele Bannister has had an asteroid named after her. Asteroid (10463) Bannister was discovered in 1979 and now has ...

Dr Michele Bannister has had an asteroid named after her. Asteroid (10463) Bannister was discovered in 1979 and now has a Kiwi name to call its own.

A Kiwi astronomer's name has been written among the stars - but you'll need help to see it.

Asteroid (10463) Bannister has been named after Taranaki-raised Michele Bannister, who now works at Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland

The rock, which is 11km wide, was first discovered in 1979, but is too faint to see with the naked eye.

"You could see it from New Zealand but you'd need a telescope," Bannister, a research fellow and director's outreach fellow, said.

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The 31-year-old's astronomical honour was announced last week at the Asteroids, Comets, Meteors meeting, which is an international conference for scientists who study small bodies.

"It only happens every three years," Bannister said.

"But I wasn't there this year."

Asteroid (10463) Bannister was discovered 38 years ago at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales by Eleanor Hallam.

"She was a pioneer of the field I work in actually," Bannister said.

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"So I'm particularly honoured they chose this one for me."

Details on how scientists are chosen for the accolade are foggy, Bannister said, and she could not say why the award was received.

"Only five per cent of the numbered asteroids have been named," she said.

"It's an honour you don't see coming. It can happen at any point of your career and I'm honoured to have received mine so early."

While an asteroid naming is a prestigious credit to a scientist's contribution, Bannister said she has "a lot of work to do yet".

Though the orbiting rock is located in the main part of the asteroid belt, Bannister said her asteroid had actually been discovered numerous times.

"When we discover these little things in the night sky, we track its motion; how fast it travels and in what direction tells us how far from Earth it is," she said.

"Depending on how strange the orbit, it could take years to get it precise.

"Sometimes, they get lost and re-found."

(10463) Bannister was rediscovered mid-September 1991 and then again late February 1997.

"It's in the part of the sky where most people look to for new discoveries," she said.

"We have computer algorithms that will figure out if it's the same object."

Bannister is not the only bit of New Zealand linked to the heavens.

Last year, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) gave an asteroid floating between Mars and Jupiter the name New Zealand, as chosen by Auckland astronomer Jennie McCormick, who discovered it in 2009.

There is also asteroid 3400 Aotearoa, which uses the Maori name for the country.

In fact, a number of features on planets and moons take their names from Maori culture and New Zealanders.

On Venus, for example, there is Hinemoa Planitia, a low plain named after a heroine who swam across Lake Rotorua to her lover, and the Ngaio crater, named after crime writer and theatre director Dame Ngaio Marsh.

Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, has a sea called Punga Mare, named after the son of the sea god Tangaroa, the father of sharks and lizards.


 - Stuff

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