How Three New Brunswickers Got an Asteroid Named After Them
Three residents of Saint John, New Brunswick, were recently bestowed with a celestial honor: a 6.37 km asteroid that has been named after them. The asteroid, called Mipach, was named after the first two letters in the names of Mike Powell, Paul Owen, and Chris Curwin. “I saw the email and the other two guys hadn’t seen it yet. So I was frantically on the phone and messaging them back and forth, getting them to take a look. So it was just overwhelming,” said Curwin.
Discovering the Asteroid
The asteroid was discovered in 1991 and resides in the main belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. When Curwin shared the news about Mipach with Powell and Owen, they expressed surprise and disbelief. “I’m still letting it sink in. So I guess … I haven’t absorbed it all yet,” Owen said. The process of naming minor planets, which includes asteroids and comets, is carried out by a working group within the International Astronomical Union called Small Bodies Nomenclature. The names are suggested by the credited discoverers of the object, or sometimes, external sources such as Canadian astronomer Peter Jedicke, the proposal of the names help the voting members to ultimately approve or deny the suggestions.
Amateur Astronomers vs. Professionals
Gareth Williams, the secretary of the working group, explained that amateur astronomers are not necessarily unprofessional, and good amateurs can produce better results than some professionals. The group also mentioned the team’s role in the Sunday Night Astronomy Show, broadcasted live from the Saint John Astronomy Club on Rogers TV and YouTube.
Live from Saint John
Chris Curwin elaborated about the team’s interest in astronomy, revealing that the program started as a way to share lives views of the night sky. He stated “It’s that whole thing —is to try to think of the fact that that’s how tiny we really are in this whole vast scheme of things.” Paul Owen has long been involved with showing off “night sky treasures,” and never would have imagined being part of an asteroid’s namesake.
As the news of the asteroid Mipach makes its way around the astronomy community, reaching even the small pocket of Saint John, the incredible revelations about the universe keep stirring the curiosity. The unique story of the three Saint John residents who got an asteroid named after them exemplifies how shared passion and dedication can manifest in unexpected and extraordinary ways in the vast pursuit of exploring the universe.