Friday, September 04, 2015

Romero, the asteroid



At the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero on May 23rd of this year, Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, declared that “Blessed Romero is another shining star that burns in the American spiritual firmament.”  Now it turns out that statement was not entirely a metaphor, as a minor planet or asteroid has been named after the Salvadoran bishop and martyr.
Contacted by Super Martyrio, Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ, Coordinator for Public Relations at the Vatican Observatory, said he found the news “fascinating” but disavowed any involvement with the asteroid’s naming.  The Observatory is an astronomical research institution operated by the Vatican.
The naming of the celestial body, formerly known as “13703 (1998 OR13)” (based on the year of its discovery), for Romero was quietly announced at the end of last month by the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union in a publication called a Minor Planet Circular, dated August 29.  A page on the website of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirms that 13703 Romero was named for Archbishop Romero.

[Update: Gareth V. Williams of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Secretary of the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, told Super Martyrio that the Romero asteroid is “a routine main-belt asteroid, in the inner region of the main belt” with a size “probably in the range 2.5 to 7.5 km.”  Jorge Colorado, an astronomy blogger with the Salvadoran online news magazine EL FARO, writes that the optimal time to view the Romero asteroid from the earth will be on February 9, 2017, when it will be in the constellation of Aries.  The Salvadoran Astronomical Association confirmed to Super Martyrio that that the Romero asteroid is the only celestial body named after a Salvadoran.  News of its naming, first reported here, was picked up by Vatican Radio and even retweeted by the President of El Salvador.]
Discovery of the Romero asteroid is attributed to Eric Walter Elst, a Belgian astronomer, at the La Silla Observatory in Chile on July 26, 1998.  The Romero asteroid’s current distance from the earth is 3.457 astronomical units (au) or approximately 321,348,225 miles.  (It would take a beam of light 28.75 minutes to travel to earth from the Romero asteroid.)  It is not considered an impact risk to our planet.

The “impact” of the one honored in the nomenclature appears to be much greater.

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