NORTH CANTON — Retired Kent State University astronomy professor Richard Emmons can add one more distinction to his legacy. The International Astronomical Union has named an asteroid for him. “Emmons” is a rock about 10 miles across that circles the sun once every 3.4 years, at an average distance of about 210 million miles. Astronomers rate it about magnitude 13, too faint to be seen with the naked eye. But it can be seen with a telescope. And Stark County’s “Mr. Astronomy,” now 81, says he hopes to view the asteroid on its next closest pass to the Earth in August 2002, when it will be a mere 68 million miles away.
“It’s a proud moment,” said Emmons, after learning of the honor. His
name was proposed by Eleanor Helin, principal investigator of the near-Earth
asteroid tracking program for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California
Institute of Technology. It was supported by Brian Marsden, director of
the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at
Cambridge, Mass. Emmons, who met Helin when she spoke in April in Cleveland,
told her that his lifelong interest in astronomy was sparked by a 1932
Popular Science magazine article about an asteroid that passed close to
the Earth. “I said to myself, ‘Wow,’ ” he recalls. “ ‘Somebody ought to
keep track of these mountains on the loose.’ ” Helin said Emmons’ lifelong
contributions to amateur astronomy and his status as a highly regarded
emeritus professor were among factors that persuaded her to consider him.
“It sounded like a person who deserved a heavenly body,” she said. “A number
of his students have become very well known in their own right. He is a
person who inspired a lot of people, even to his own family.”
Emmons’ son, Thomas, teaches physics and astronomy and is co-director of the planetarium at KSU’s main campus. His daughter, Jeanne Bishop, was twice president of the International Planetarium Society, was the original director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at Canton’s McKinley Museum and is a board member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. She is a planetarium teacher and director for Westlake public schools in Cuyahoga County.
Area astronomers applauded Emmons’ honor. David Ross, planetarium coordinator
for the Wilderness Center Astronomy Club, said it is “a fitting tribute
to somebody (who has) contributed as an amateur astronomer greatly over
James Rodman, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy and director of the Clarke Observatory at Mount Union College, said Emmons “richly deserves” the honor.
More than 35 years ago, Emmons operated the popular North Canton Planetarium out of a garage behind his home. It drew an estimated 20,000 people over a period of about 10 years. He formerly tracked satellites and was instrumental in determining that “space dust” wouldn’t rapidly erode satellites and optical surfaces in space.
Marsden said the International Astronomical Union has officially numbered about 15,000 asteroids with well-known orbits. Most are located in the so-called asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, a ring of debris many scientists believe is left from a planet that failed to coalesce. About 250 asteroids are considered “potentially hazardous” because their orbits pass within 5 million miles of Earth’s orbit. But Marsden said the possibility of a strike that causes serious damage is remote.
“Emmons” never crosses Earth’s path.
“Emmons doesn’t threaten anybody,” said its namesake.
You can reach Repository staff writer Susan R. Schell at:
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