Meteor shower

Two asteroids have been given Irish names in time for St. Patrick's Day.

Discovered in July 1987 by famed asteroid hunter and planetary astronomer Eleanor Helin of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., the asteroids have been officially christened by the International Astronomical Union and honor Irish contributions to astronomical research.

One asteroid is named for the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, which is active in the studies of near-Earth objects. The 10,502nd asteroid found, it is called ArmaghObs. Its official designation was 1987 OT.

Another, formerly 1987 QF6, was given the ancient Gaelic name for the town of Armagh, which St Patrick founded in 445 A.D. as "Ardmacha." The Armagh Observatory lies on the outskirts of the town.

Helin, the principal investigator of JPL's Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking program, (called NEAT), said that she has had a long association with the Armagh Observatory and she named the asteroids in part to honor that collaboration, and the observatory staff members who have made many contributions to asteroid research. "We've been working together since the early 70's, and I named an asteroid in 1975 for their distinguished Estonian-Irish astronomer E.J. Opik, who was a resident astronomer for 33 years," said Helin. "The asteroids were named to honor the rich heritage of the ancient city of Armagh, and noteworthy contributions from the 200-year-old observatory."

The asteroid names were published in the January 2001 Minor Planet Circular of the International Astronomical Union.

The NEAT project is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science. JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA.

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