Asteroid xkcd

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Asteroid xkcd

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I would like to formally welcome my pal Randall Munroe to the club. The asteroid club, that is: The creator of the Web comic xkcd just got an asteroid named after him.

Asteroid 4942 Munroe (nee 1987 DU6) orbits the Sun on the inner edge of the main asteroid beltâitâs no threat to Earthâabout 330 million kilometers (200 million miles) out. Itâs too small to measure its size directly at that distance, but judging from its brightness, itâs very roughly 10 km across at most.

Appropriately, itâs an X-type asteroid, which just refers to some features seen in its spectrum (the light from the asteroid broken up into thousands of individual colors, which can give clues to its composition). It has a fairly typical orbit, though it's somewhat more elliptical and tilted with respect to Earthâs orbit:

The blue line is the orbit of 4942 Munroe. If you go to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website you can play with the geometry and see how itâs shaped. By the way, astronomers call the ellipticity of an orbit its eccentricity, so it's fair to say that 4942 Munroe is slightly eccentric. Huh.

Iâll note that this asteroid was discovered in 1987, when Randall was only a few years old, but it was recently renamed after him when a couple of xkcd fans submitted his name to the International Astronomical Union. Iâll note how grossly unfair it is that although he just got his own rock, Iâve had one for years, and my asteroid is only 1.3 km across, not even a mile. Clearly, the IAU hates me.

But this presents a fun opportunity. A few years ago, a Bad Astronomy reader got images of 165347 Philplait and created a nifty animation of it moving against the background stars. I poked around and could find no such images of 4942 Munroe. So here you go, folks: A chance for xkcd fame. Be aware that right now itâs near the Sun in the sky (you can see that in the orbit diagram above, which I set to Oct. 17 for no particular reason at all), so itâll be early 2014 before itâs visible again, rising just before the Sun does in the morning. Mark your calendar.

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