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Asteroid Named for University of Utah

Orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, ‘Univofutah’ Is No Threat to Earth

Sept. 23, 2014 – What’s rocky, about a mile wide, orbits between Mars and Jupiter and poses no threat to Earth?
An asteroid named “Univofutah” after the University of Utah.


At the request of longtime Utah astronomy educator Patrick Wiggins, shown here, the International Astronomical Union this month named an asteroid that Wiggins discovered in 2008 as "Univofutah" to honor the University of Utah. Photo Credit: Bill Dunford

Discovered on Sept. 8, 2008, by longtime Utah astronomy educator Patrick Wiggins, the asteroid also known as 391795 (2008 RV77) this month was renamed Univofutah by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“It’s neat,” Wiggins says. “There aren’t too many other universities on the whole planet with asteroids named after them. So that puts the U in rather rarified company.”

“We are very honored,” says Carleton Detar, the university’s chairman of physics and astronomy. “Patrick Wiggins has been a dedicated champion of Utah amateur astronomy. Next, we’ll need student volunteers to install a large block U on our asteroid.”

Wiggins, who now works as a part-time public education assistant in the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, had submitted the naming request in July as “Univ of Utah” but the naming agency changed it to Univofutah – much to the dismay of university marketing officials, who would have preferred “U of Utah.” Wiggins says names must be limited to 16 characters, ruling out the university’s full name

The asteroid “is no more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) across,” Wiggins says. Because of its small size and distance, it is “too far away for even the Hubble Space Telescope to determine the shape.”

“Thankfully, this one will not be coming anywhere near the Earth,” he adds. “It’s a loooong way out. It is in the main asteroid belt. It stays between the orbits or Mars and Jupiter.”

As a NASA solar system ambassador to Utah since 2002, Wiggins this year won NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, the space agency’s highest civilian honor.

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