Thursday, 17 January 2013

Out Of This World

We all know that the planets are named after ancient Greek gods and goddesses, and that lots of objects like asteroids, satellites and stars are also named after mythological figures. But with the discovery of each new celestial object the challenge after cataloguing it is giving it a name. It sounds so much better to refer to the asteroid Michelangelo instead of asteroid number 3001.

Several constellations have been named after real lgbt people, and I have dealt with them in my Star Gayzing series – Frederick the Great and Antinous.

It is natural to name something after a famous person or to recognise their contribution in a particular field. So the skies are full of objects named after real people, more so than in any other science. Here are some people in the lgbt community who have had objects that are “out of this world” named after them.

With the universe full of an infinite number of objects it is possible to name a star, planet or galaxy after each and every one of us (I hope I don’t have a black hole named after me!) and all our ancestors. So where do I start? Well, since the Ology of the Month is astronomy, let’s start with lgbt astronomers.

There’s very few celestial objects named after lgbt astronomers. Here are ones I’ve found.

JAMES B. POLLACK (1938-1994)
A NASA research scientist who specialised in planetary atmospheres and evolutionary planetary climate change. He had a crater on Mars named after him in 1977.

FRANK KAMENY (1935-2011)
Lecturer in astronomy who was fired in 1958 after admitting his sexually. He was a pioneer of the 1960s gay rights movement and asteroid 40463 was Frankkameny named after him the year after his death.

SALLY RIDE (1951-2012)
Space shuttle astronaut, the first American woman in space. She was outed by her partner after her death. The asteroid Ride (no.4763) is named after her.

And that’s about it, except for asteroid 7307 which is named after George Takei, the Star Trek actor. There’s also asteroid 2309 Mr Spock, which I include because Zachary Quinto played the character in the rebooted version.

Other lgbt scientists have fared a little better. Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), naturalist and explorer, has asteroid 54 Alexandra named after him, and a sea on the Moon. Sir Francis Bacon (subject of an Extraordinary Lives feature next month) has asteroid 2940 named after him, and mathematician George Washington Carver (1864-1943) has a moon crater named after him.

There are a few more writers and authors whose names have been given to objects. Asteroid 4474 is named after Marcel Proust, and no. 4635 is named after Arthur Rimbaud. Both also have craters on Mercury named after them, as do fellow writers Abu Nuwas, Lord Byron, Miguel de Cervantes, Nikolai Gogol, Thomas Mann, Martial, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Walt Whitman.

The planet Venus has a whole plethora of exclusively female names for craters, including those named after lgbt women - Jane Addams, Aphra Behn, Sarah Bernhardt, Willa Cather, Simone de Beauvoir, Emily Dickinson, Isadora Duncan, Eleanora Duse, Frida Kahlo, Selma Lagerlöf, Margaret Mead, Edna St Vincent Millay, Georgia O’Keefe, Rosa Bonheur, Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and Virginia Woolf.

Craters on Mercury have also been named after Alvin Ailey, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Tchaikovsky, Aaron Copland, Michelangelo and Phidias (sculptor and designer of the Parthenon).

Back to the asteroids – Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo are up there in the asteroid belt, as are Friedrich Nietzsche, Andy Warhol, Benjamin Britten, Camille Saint-Saens, Jodie Foster, Sir John Gielgud, Arthur Schopenhauer and Olympian Johnny Weir. All of the Monty Python team have asteroids, so that includes Graham Chapman.

And if you want to continue with fictional characters, how about asteroid 246247 Sheldoncooper. Fans of the American tv comedy series “The Big Bang Theory” will recognise this name as the main character played by gay actor Jim Parsons.

Several more fictional characters have asteroids named after them, including Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, who are always being talked about as a gay couple, which they’re not. And my favourite has to be asteroid 58345 which is called Moomintroll, named after the little character created by Jove Jansson.

And finally, features you can see through a modest telescope – more craters on the moon, named after Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander the Great and Cyrano de Bergerac.

There are lots more celestial objects named after people in the lgbt community but I think I’ve mentioned enough for you to get out your telescopes and have a look around for yourselves. Happy star “gayzing”.

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