ORLANDO, Fla. - Two planetary scientists with ties to the University of Central Florida received a unique recognition recently: becoming an asteroid’s namesake.
Two asteroids were named for Florida Space Institute’s planetary astronomer Noemi Pinilla-Alonso and another for UCF alumna Emily Kramer, now with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Asteroid 10689 is now dubbed Pinillaalonso and asteroid 10282 is now known as EmilyKramer.
Pinilla-Alonso joined UCF’s Florida Space Institute in 2015 and earned her Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics at the Universidad de La Laguna in Spain.
She studies the small bodies of the solar system, including asteroids, comets and icy asteroids orbiting beyond Neptune using ground-based telescopes and space telescopes, such as NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.
"I'm involved in figuring out which is the best way to scientifically exploit the next generation space telescopes to (study small bodies)," she told News 6.
That is one big reason why Pinilla-Alonso is looking for to the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. The largest-ever telescope in space that will observe space in infrared light and will help Pinilla-Alonso and her colleagues look for icy footprints and traces of organic materials.
The associate scientist said the honor of having one body of her area of study to be named after her was "very exciting," especially after she did some research on her asteroid.
"It's interesting because it's a primitive asteroid," Pinilla-Alonso said. "It has not been thermally processed, or cooked, and it is part of a collisional family named Alauda, that formed from a catastrophic impact 3 billion years ago."
The fact that this fossil of the solar system is in the outer region of the main asteroid belt is important to Pinilla-Alonso because she specifically studies these untouched icy bodies.
Kramer earned her Ph.D. in physics at UCF in 2014 and now works on NASA’s asteroid-hunting NEWOWISE mission. The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer designed to survey the entire sky in infrared light launched in 2009.
Kramer also studies small bodies.
The asteroids were named at the international Asteroids, Comets, Meteors conference in Uruguay in April to honor of the two women’s contributions to planetary science research.
The conference is held every three years and the largest event for scientists who study the smallest bodies in the universe.
"In our work, we can get very focused and we inadvertently isolate ourselves, eventually, having the reminder that you are part of a community that chases similar goals and recognizes the value of your work is heartwarming," Pinilla-Alonso said of the honor.
This year, around 100 asteroids were named for people who have contributed to the study of small bodies.
More than 10 other UCF faculty members also have the out-of-this world honor of asteroids with their names.
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