ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, N.S. - Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald just found out a planet has been named after Nova Scotia’s smallest town.
Dubbed (516560) Annapolisroyal, the tiny planet is about as big around as it’s namesake and is the first space object David Balam has named after a community – and he’s named a lot of space objects.
“It’s a wonderful recognition of Annapolis Royal and the pivotal role it played in the early origins and colonization of our nation,” said MacDonald. “It truly is the cradle of our nation.”
Victoria, B.C. astronomer David Balam discovered Annapolisroyal on Dec. 12, 2006 at Maunakea Observatories at the 4,200-metre summit of Maunakea in Hawaii. Since then various other observations and orbital verifications have been done. It’s been a long road, but late at night on Sept. 27 it became official.
“The Town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, is recognized as the cradle of the Canadian nation for its prominent role in the country's early origins and remains influential as a leader in heritage stewardship and preservation,” Balam said in an email to MacDonald Sept. 28.
“In essence, you have been honoured by the naming of a small planet, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter,” he told MacDonald. “The naming became official late last night and forever more the planet is known as (516560) AnnapolisRoyal. Currently, it is 434 million kilometres distant and about to go behind the sun. It was last observed and measured on July 18. The minor planet takes 4.6 years to go around the sun.”
By small planet, Balam means that (516560) Annapolisroyal is about 1.5 kilometres in diameter, or roughly the same size as the town itself.
Balam said the story leading to the discovery of (516560) Annapolisroyal began in December of 2001 when he accepted a position with the Canada-France Legacy Survey, a consortium of
Canadian universities and the Paris Observatory, to discover extra-galactic supernovae -- exploding stars in far distant galaxies.
“The aim of the survey was to map out the expansion geometry of the universe using these exploding stars as celestial yard sticks,” Balam said. The survey was conducted using the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope on Maunakea from 2001 to 2007.
“The giant mosaic detector allowed us to photograph an area of sky approximately four times the area of the full moon to a depth such that we could detect objects more than 10 million times fainter than the faintest star that can be seen with the human eye on a clear and dark night,” he said.
Besides the more than 100,000 galaxies that would be detected on any given field there were a great many objects like comets, asteroids, and satellites crossing the fields of view on any given night, he said.
“Never being one to pass up an opportunity, I had decided to document and measure each and every one,” he said, “and by the end of the survey more than 700 minor planets had been discovered as well as two trans-Neptunian (outer solar system) objects and several Earth-crossing objects, one of which is a potential ‘impactor’ and could be quite dangerous to our planet.”
It took 12 years of observation and calculations to verify (516560) Annapolisroyal’s orbital path.
“The final criterion is that the orbit of the object be refined to the point that if we were to predict the position of the object 50 years in the future it must be within one minute of arc (1/32 of the diameter of the full moon) of the prediction.”
If this criterion is met then the object becomes a ‘permanently designated’ minor planet and the discoverer may propose a name for it.
“Annapolitans take great pride in their town’s rich history, acknowledging it as the ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq - with whom they embrace a shared history and mutual respect,” said MacDonald.
“Annapolis Royal is inextricably linked to the struggles for empire in North America - having served as the colonial capital for France, Scotland, and Great Britain; and was the capital of Nova Scotia until 1749.”
In an interview, Balam said he chose Annapolis Royal because he had already named many objects after famous Canadian astronomers and scientists and institutions and wanted to honour Canadian history.
“There are quite a lot of fairly chunky big planets out there with names like Hartwick and Pritchet, and Bohlender, and all these astronomers,” he said. “I also name them after institutions. I’ve named one after the University of Victoria.”
Balam said he’s proud of being a Canadian. “Canada has always been extremely kind to me, and I feel I owe something back. So I thought okay, let’s look at some of the most historic parts of Canada and we honour that. We go back to 1605 -- Annapolis Royal, which in those days what the French called Port-Royale. Port-Royale, the French, Annapolis Royal. There’s a good one. I think I’ll start there – start in the east.”
What Wikipedia Said
David D. Balam is a Canadian astronomer and a research associate with the University of Victoria’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, in Victoria, British Columbia. Spec ializing in the search for Near-Earth Objects, Balam is one of the world’s most prolific contributors to this research; only two astronomers have made more discoveries than Balam, He is credited with the discovery or co-discovery of more than 600 asteroids, over a thousand extra-galactic supernovae, and novae in the galaxy M31. Balam is also co-credited for the 1997 discovery of Comet Zhu-Balam.
Among celestial bodies discovered by Balam are the asteroid 150145 Uvic which he named for the University of Victoria, and 197856 Tafelmusik, named for the Baroque Orchestra in Toronto.
Currently, Balam conducts an optical transient survey (OTS) using the 1.82-m Plaskett Telescope of the National Research Council of Canada.
The asteroid 3749 Balam is named in his honour, recognizing the fact that he developed most of the software for the university's astrometric program on minor planets and comets.