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Facts are Facts PDF Print E-mail
Swift
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:

PERSON
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.”)

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Hilarious
written by Richard Wolford, November 25, 2008
I remember when PZ was gloating over his asteroid being larger than Phil's as well. The online banter between them is brightens my day.
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written by philplait@randi.org, November 25, 2008
What's odd is that mine was discovered before Rebecca's, Mike's, and PZ's, but it's the smallest. I wonder if it took longer to confirm the orbit, which is the parameter needed before they can be named. Before he died, Jeff Medkeff -- the discoverer of the four newer rocks -- told me that he was looking around for people after whom to name the asteroids, and assumed I already had one (I didn't). So that might explain the time discrepancy... but not the size one. Sigh.

Incidentally, if mine could hit the Earth (it can't), it would be catastrophic, but not a global mass-extinction. Randi's, on the other hand, is larger than the dinosaur-killer which did spawn a global extinction event. So size does matter... but smaller is friendlier, in this case!

Oh, and fine. I'll say that Randi's can't hit us either. But my argument stands!
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written by rjrveritas, November 25, 2008
Just to point out... if you add together the sizes of all the asteroids (aside from Randi's) you get a total sum of 9.9km. 3163 Randi at 12km still remains the biggest! Enough said.
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written by Marcus, November 25, 2008
If we assume the asteroids to be roughly the same shape, you could grind up all the other asteroids and fit them inside the volume of Randi's a bit over 16.5 times over.
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written by cwniles, November 26, 2008
I would be curious as to the composition/mass/density of these asteroids. Clearly 3163 RANDI has the largest suface area of the listed asteroids but isn't it possible that just like Mr. Randi's head, this asteroid has many large air pockets? Sorry, couldn't resist, you know I jest, but seriously, I think composition/mass/density are just as important, if not more important than surface area. Am I completely wrong?
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written by cwniles, November 26, 2008
I suppose I should amend my statement above before someone points out the obvious. When I said "air pockets", of course what I meant to say was "empty voids and/or areas of varying density".
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Ass-teroid Geller
written by Willy K, November 26, 2008
Hey you guys, don't forget about asteroid Gellar.

It changes orbits every time someone observes it too closely. It changes shape from straight to bent when it thinks no one is looking. It sues everyone when it was discovered that it wasn't an asteroid at all, it was just a speck of dirt on the telescope mirror! smilies/grin.gif

Willy K
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Size Matters....hmmmm
written by Christine, November 26, 2008
Just like a man to get in a contest over size! smilies/grin.gif smilies/wink.gif
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written by DrMatt, November 27, 2008
My rock is really small. But it's right here in my desk drawer. Neener.
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written by wombatwal, November 28, 2008
Could the size of the asteroid reflect the size of the ego. smilies/grin.gif smilies/grin.gif smilies/wink.gif
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written by dr pepper, November 28, 2008
But he's still Jimmy from the Block.
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written by BillyJoe, November 28, 2008
I'm sure they were just compensating for Randi's short stature:

There, there, little fellar (with a pat on his head), don't cry, we'll give you a really big asteriod to show off to the bigger boys!

(In case someone thinks I'n being cruel, I should add that my stature is such that I see eye to eye with Randi smilies/wink.gif )
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