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Asteroid Naming Guidelines

What's in a Name?

When an asteroid is first discovered, it is given a provisional designation like "1999 RQ36."  The first four digits tell you what year it was discovered.  The last four characters tell you when in that year it was discovered. 1999 RQ36 was the 916th object observed in the first half of September, 1999.

Once the asteroid's orbit is precisely known, it is issued an official sequential number.  1999 RQ36 was the 101,955th asteroid to receive a number, so it is now formally known as 101955. Only about 5% of numbered asteroids have been given names.

When asteroids are discovered, they are initially named with numbers and letters encoding when they were first spotted.  The Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory gives them these alphanumeric codes.

The asteroid's discoverer can propose to the International Astronomical Union to give the asteroid a formal name.  The International Astronomical Union has established rules to guide the selection of names for objects located in different parts of the solar system.  Here are the guidelines for naming (101955) 1999 RQ36:

Proposed names must be:

  • no more than 16 characters long (including any spaces or punctuation);
  • preferably one word;
  • pronounceable (in some language);
  • written using Latin characters (transliterations of names from languages not written using Latin characters are acceptable);
  • non-offensive;
  • not identical with or even too similar to an existing name of a minor planet or natural planetary satellite.

In addition, because (101955) 1999 RQ36 is a near-Earth object, its name should be from mythology, but the name should not be one associated with creation or underworld themes because those themes are used for other types of bodies in the solar system. The mythological name can come from any culture from any part of the world. In very rare cases, this definition has been stretched to include fictional mythological characters. There are some exceptions to these rules, and entries of names that are not mythological will not be disqualified. However, the International Astronomical Union is likelier to approve a name that is from mythology than one that is not.

Below is a list of the named near-Earth objects as of August 16, 2012. Follow this link for a complete listing of all named minor planets.

Abhramu
Aditi
Adonis
Ahau
Akka
Albert
Alinda
Almeria
Amor
Amun
Anteros
Antinous
Anza
Apollo
Apophis
Aristaeus
Asclepius
Aten
Atira
Baboquivari
Bacchus
Bede
Belenus
Beltrovata
Beowulf
Betulia
Bivoj
Blume
Boreas
Brucemurray
Cacus
Cadmus
Camarillo
Camillo
Castalia
Cerberus
Cleobulus
Cruithne
Cuno
Cuyo
Daedalus
Davidaguilar
Davidharvey
Didymos
Dionysus
Doloreshill
Don Quixote
Eger
Epona
Eric
Eros
ESA
Florence
Ganymed
Geographos
Golevka
Gordonmoore
Hathor
Hephaistos
Heracles
Hermes
Hypnos
Icarus
Illapa
Ishtar
Itokawa
Ivar
Izhdubar
Jason
Jasonwheeler
Kadlu
Khufu
Konnohmaru
Krok
Kwiila
Lucianotesi
Lugh
Lyapunov
Magellan
Masaakikoyama
McAuliffe
Mera
Midas
Minos
Mithra
Miwablock
Mjolnir
Nefertiti
Nereus
Ninkasi
Norwan
Nut
Nyx
Ogmios
Oljato
Ondaatje
Orpheus
Orthos
Oze
Pan
Pele
Peleus
Phaethon
Pocahontas
Poseidon
Ptah
Pygmalion
Quetzalcoatl
Ra-Shalom
Rees
Rhiannon
Robwhiteley
Saunders
Sekhmet
Seleucus
Selqet
Seneca
Sigurd
Sisyphus
Summanus
Syrinx
Talos
Tanith
Tantalus
Tara
Taranis
Tezcatlipoca
Tjelvar
Tomaiyowit
Toro
Toutatis
Tukmit
Ubasti
Ul
Verenia
Vinciguerra
Vishnu
Wilson-Harrington
Xanthus
YORP
Zao
Zephyr
Zeus

More background on naming guidelines can be found at the Minor Planet Center.


The naming contest for the near Earth asteroid currently named (101955) 1999 RQ36 is a partnership of the Planetary Society; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, the discoverers of (101955) 1999 RQ36; and the University of Arizona, who under principal investigator Dante Lauretta was chosen by NASA to lead the OSIRIS-REx (Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer) asteroid sample return mission.

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