By Ali Richardson, Staff Writer
Dr. Patrick Miller, professor of mathematics, was notified by The International Astronomical Union that one of the discoveries by students in the IASC program had also been officially named by those same students.
“Students in the IASC program discovered one that is five billion miles away from the sun. This trans-neptunian object was discovered by students in Taiwan at the National Dali Senior High School affiliated with the National Chung-Hsing University in Taiwan,” Dr. Miller said.
It’s exciting that the students get recognized for this discovery and also get to choose the name. Zhulong is quite a unique name with an interesting backstory as well.
“Once it was officially identified by the Minor Planet Center in Harvard, students were recognized then named the official discoverers. They got to propose a name for it which goes before an international body called The International Astronomical Union, they have to review the proposal, and [they] recently accepted the proposal. It has now been discovered and named by these students. Zhulong is the name, the requirement for these kinds of objects is they have to be named after a mythological figure. It is called a ‘Torch Dragon’, and according to Chinese mythology the ‘Torch Dragon’ controlled day and night. The way he did this was when he opened his eyes, it was day, and when he closed his eyes it was night,” Dr. Miller said.
Dr. Miller went on to explain the size and orbit of the object. “This object is about 200 kilometers in size, about 150 miles across in size. At five billion miles, it has an orbit 56 times the size of the Earth’s orbit,” Dr. Miller said.
Dr. Miller explained how unique this discovery is. “One of the original building blocks for the planets, left over material from building the planets. Very important astronomical discovery,” Dr. Miller said.
It takes quite the process for an object to be identified, approved and named. This object’s discovery actually happened a couple years ago. Dr. Miller also explained the naming process.
“The way the process works is, they actually made the discovery in 2014 but they don’t get the credit until the orbit is completely determined. And that wasn’t fully determined until last year. The people that discovered it are given a 10-year opportunity to propose a name, and they proposed one this year and it was accepted by the International Astronomical Union, so it’s an official name and goes in the world record. If you look it up on the internet, you’ll find reference to it,” Dr. Miller said.
The IASC program is still waiting for some other distant objects to reach the same status. “There are six other objects discovered by students in IASC, but they have not yet reached this status. This is the very first one to be numbered and named by the students who made the discovery,” Dr. Miller said.