Astronomer renames asteroid as tribute to SF writer Iain M. Banks

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Jun 25, 2015, 2:34 PM EDT (Updated)

The late Iain M. Banks' name is now a permanent part of the cosmos.

Fans all over the world were shocked when the acclaimed sci-fi and literary fiction author announced in April that he was dying of gallbladder cancer and likely had less than a year to live. Among them was Dr. Jose Luis Galache, an astronomer at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planets Center (MPC) in Cambridge, Mass., who met Banks at a book signing while in graduate school and quickly became a fan of his work. Though he could do nothing about the cancer itself, Galache decided he wanted to do what he could to give the author a rather impressive astronomical gift.

"When I heard of his sickness I immediately asked myself what I could do for Mr Banks," Galache wrote on the MPC blog, "and the answer was obvious: Give him an asteroid!"

Galache set about requesting a name change for an asteroid discovered in 1985 in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which he wanted to rename "Iainbanks." Naming an asteroid after Banks -- instead of, say, a crater on the moon -- is particularly fitting, because Banks' Culture series of sci-fi novels often featured hollowed-out asteroids called "Rocks" used for living quarters and faster-than-light travel.

"I'd like to think Mr Banks would have been amused to have his own rock," wrote Galache.

Galache's hope was to get the asteroid's name change approved while Banks was still alive, so he could enjoy the honor. Unfortunately, the Committee for Small Body Nomenclature, which is responsible for the names of asteroids, didn't approve the request until June 23, two weeks after Banks passed away.

He didn't live to see it, but Banks is now part of space forever. If you look up his asteroid on the MPC's website, the description of the name is as follows.

Iain M. Banks (1954-2013) was a Scottish writer best known for the Culture series of science fiction novels; he also wrote fiction as Iain Banks. An evangelical atheist and lover of whisky, he scorned social media and enjoyed writing music. He was an extra in Monty Python & The Holy Grail.

Maybe someday in the future we can pay further tribute to Banks by harnessing his asteroid, hollowing it out, and taking it for a ride.

(Via The Guardian)