MSU astrophysicist's friend gives him namesake asteroid

MSU astrophysicist's friend gives him namesake asteroid

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BOZEMAN - Charles Kankelborg, an astrophysicist at Montana State University, now has an asteroid named after him.

A friend, amateur astronomer and oil company geophysicist Joe Dellinger, detected Asteroid 120120 on March 28, 2003, and recently completed the process of naming it after Kankelborg through the International Astronomical Union.

"I was kind of surprised, but I know Joe well enough to not be utterly shocked," Kankelborg, an associate professor of physics, said.

Dellinger and Kankelborg attended graduate school together at Stanford University.

In the application paperwork, Dellinger said the asteroid had a circular orbit, which reminded him of Kankelborg, "an avid and well-rounded astrophysicist."

Dellinger has named 13 asteroids so far. Kankelborg's is the most recent.

Dellinger detected the asteroid, 269 million miles from the sun, through an 18-inch Newtonian telescope at the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park, about an hour's drive from Houston.

Kankelborg teaches physics, builds instruments that observe the extreme ultraviolet rays of the sun and analyzes information from those instruments. He also picks locks, rolls tamales, reads theology, shoots targets and plays games with his 8-year-old daughter, Emma.

The asteroid is too faint to see without a telescope. It's brightest when the Earth is between the sun and the asteroid, Dellinger said.

Kankelborg said some asteroids are large enough to be rounded by their own gravity, but he doubts his asteroid is that big.

"Anything that isn't discovered until after 2000 has to be really, really small or really, really far away," he said. "Since it's not so far away, it must be really, really small."

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