MPEC 2004-S73 : EDITORIAL NOTICEThe following Minor Planet Electronic Circular may be linked-to from your own Web pages, but must not otherwise be redistributed electronically.
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M.P.E.C. 2004-S73 Issued 2004 Sept. 28, 00:04 UT The Minor Planet Electronic Circulars contain information on unusual minor planets and routine data on comets. They are published on behalf of Commission 20 of the International Astronomical Union by the Minor Planet Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A. Supported in part by the Brinson Foundation Prepared using the Tamkin Foundation Computer Network MPC@CFA.HARVARD.EDU URL http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/mpc.html ISSN 1523-6714 EDITORIAL NOTICE (from MPC 52733) Among the new names of minor planets published in this batch of Minor Planet Circulars is (90377) Sedna = 2003 VB12. This naming has created some controversy, particularly in the community of amateur astronomers, because it was already publicized by the discoverers six months ago during a press conference at which they described their finding this exceptionally interesting object in the outer solar system. At that time the object did not qualify for naming because it had not yet been numbered, something that did not happen until Aug. 30 (MPC 52567, 52620, MPO 64543). Although the discoverers did state that the naming was not yet official, the point is that the guidelines for naming minor planets have indicated that names should not be publicized before they are announced in the Minor Planet Circulars. This is because, even after an object has been numbered, the proposed names are judged by the IAU Committee on Small-Body Nomenclature, principally to ensure that they are in fact reasonably compatible with the guidelines, in particular that a name is neither "in bad taste" nor "too closely similar" to one already in use (in which case the CSBN might in fact unilaterally make a change in the name). We note that, as an indication of the widespread displeasure generated by the premature action of the 2003 VB12 discoverers, one amateur astronomer submitted an alternative proposal of the name "Sedna" for one of his own discoveries of a quite undistinguished main-belt object. In the past, of course, there have been severe disagreements over the namings of several solar-system bodies found since the invention of the telescope, famous early cases involving the first four satellites of Jupiter, the two outermost gas-giant planets and the twelfth minor planet. In these cases the reasons involved either real or perceived national sensibilities or accusations of plagiarism by the rightful discoverer against a rival astronomer who had made the proposal. The Sedna case is different in that the complaint was entirely one of procedure: the proposal came from the discoverers, no objection has been voiced to the name itself, and no other name has been proposed for 2003 VB12. Indeed, the mythological name proposed is quite in line with the names of other unusual objects in the outer solar system and is to be commended for representing cultural diversity. The fact is that, with observations already recognized by the discoverers at earlier oppositions, 2003 VB12 was almost ready for numbering when it was first reported to the Minor Planet Center, only five days before the press conference. At that time the decision was made to forward the discoverers' name proposal to one or two members of the CSBN to verify that it did not seem to be unsuitable; the proposal was not sent to all the members, partly because of the request for secrecy surrounding the planned press conference, partly because there was was not enough time for a full-blown discussion by all 15 CSBN members. Since the Sedna problem was simply a procedural one, it is appropriate to examine whether a simple change could be made in the CSBN guidelines in order to handle similar cases that might arise in the future. Accordingly, the CSBN has agreed that under some highly unusual circumstances it will in the future consider name proposals for minor planets before they are numbered. It is to be understood that this will occur only for objects of extraordinary interest. One important requirement is that the orbit be sufficiently well established that the object concerned will not be lost (unless, perhaps, it is about to collide with another solar-system member...). In a qualifying case, a name should be submitted to the CSBN at least one week before it needs to be disseminated (e.g., at a press conference), assuming that it is in fact approved, and neither CSBN members nor the discoverers should announce the name until that particular dissemination. This whole episode has made it rather clear that the CSBN has been delinquent in updating the formal guidelines for naming minor planets. A broader rewriting of all of the guidelines is in preparation and will be issued soon. Brian G. Marsden (C) Copyright 2004 MPC M.P.E.C. 2004-S73
- 1997-B01 (the full form)
- J97B01 (the packed version of the full form)
- B01 (the abbreviated form)