Somewhere between Mars and Jupiter there is a hunk of rock that now bears the name of a living English Catholic priest.

Fr. Christopher Corbally said Wednesday that he was “thoroughly surprised” when he heard asteroid 119248 had been named in his honor earlier this month. 

“I’m not an asteroid person, I’m a star person,” he told CNA June 24. 

The 74-year-old is credited with advancing our understanding of multiple stellar systems, stellar spectral classification, galactic structure, star formation, and telescope technology. But during his distinguished career he hasn’t focused on asteroids. 

According to NASA, asteroids “are rocky, airless remnants left over from the early formation of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.” The current number of identified asteroids is 958,915, ranging in size from less than 33 feet to 329 miles in diameter.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has strict rules for the naming of minor planets, as asteroids are also known. According to its website, they must be 16 characters or less, ideally one word, pronounceable, non-offensive, and substantially different to previous names. 

Asteroids cannot be named after politicians or military figures until a century after their deaths, or after commercial ventures. Pet names are also discouraged.

Asteroid 119248 Corbally was discovered by the American astronomer Roy Tucker on September 10, 2001 at the Goodricke-Pigott Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. Tucker recently retired as a senior engineer in the Imaging Technology Laboratory of the University of Arizona.

Corbally, a UA Associate, used Tucker’s electronic cameras for observations of spectra at Kitt Peak, southwest of Tucson, and with the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) on Mount Graham in southeast Arizona. He has also worked in recent years with Tucker on a project examining celestial objects that vary in brightness. 

Corbally joined the Vatican Observatory’s staff in 1983 as a research astronomer, serving as vice director for the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson until 2012. 

Read more at Catholic News Agency

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