Facts are Facts PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Randi   

Asteroid RandiI’m a rationalist.  I depend on evidence, not rumors, and not blind faith.  A recent matter has come to my attention, and needs a definitive statement. The International Astronomical Union is the group internationally recognized to have the authority to name astronomical entities – such as moon craters and stars – that other fly-by-night, totally invented, commercially-designed agencies only purport to have. They sell craters and novae to just anyone, but when the IAU assigns a name, that's official!

A few readers have been chortling over the fact that asteroid 3163 Randi – formerly known as 1981 QM – has now been joined by rocks named in honor of P. Z. Myers, Rebecca Watson, Mike Stackpole, and even JREF president Phil Plait! Now, these folks obviously have their rights to fame, but my enjoyment of this honor is somewhat dimmed by the fact that asteroids are being so easily handed out, left and right…

Mind you, luminaries such as Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Martin Gardner – in whose collective reflected glory I often revel – have their own assigned asteroids, too, but I searched about for some aspect of this process in which I might find some specific relief, particularly in respect to JREF associates. And there is satisfaction to be had! I assigned my trusty personal aide, Sean McCabe, to look up the data on the pertinent rocks, and he came up with these interesting figures. The names shown are those assigned by the IAU:

Asteroid’s new name
Former name Size
Myers 153298 Paulmyers 2001 FC122 2.6 km
Watson 153289 Rebeccawatson 2001 FB10 4.3 km
Stackpole 165612 Stackpole 2001 FP86 1.7 km
Plait 165347 Philplait 2000 WG11 1.3 km
Randi 3163 Randi 1981 QM 12 km

The satisfaction to be had? That my very personal asteroid – at 12 km, note! – is 9 times the size of Phil’s, and almost 3 times that of Rebecca’s…

So, I’ve decided that size does matter, after all!

(The origin of this obsession with asteroid size can be found in this article – just do a search for “delightful.”)