Repository / Ray Stewart
NORTH CANTON -- Scudding through space, some 68 million miles away, is a 10-mile-long chunk of rock that has close ties to Stark County.
It’s an asteroid named for retired North Canton astronomy professor Richard Emmons. And it makes it closest pass to earth this week.
“We’re kind of fortunate that it occurred during my lifetime,” said Emmons, 83.
His “pet rock” — now located near the constellation of Pisces — won’t be visible to the naked eye.
It will be at its brightest this weekend at about magnitude 14, or about the same as the planet Pluto.
But the faintest stars visible to the unaided eye are usually about magnitude 7, ranked on a scale that assigns the brightest objects a magnitude 1 or lower.
Amateur astronomers would need about a 10-inch telescope to see the asteroid.
Emmons hopes to view the rock through his own 17.5-inch reflector, as well as through a 16-inch telescope at the Wilderness Center near Wilmot, where night skies are darker.
He also bought a special eyepiece to magnify light from the object. It was so expensive, he joked, that “I had to sell a kidney.”
The International Astronomical Union named the asteroid in his honor two years ago at the proposal of Eleanor Helin, principal investigator of the near-Earth asteroid tracking program for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.
Emmons had met Helin at a Cleveland conference and told her his lifelong interest in astronomy was sparked by a 1932 Popular Science magazine article about an asteroid that passed close to Earth.
Helin said Emmons “deserved a heavenly body” because of his many contributions to amateur astronomy and his status as a highly regarded emeritus professor.
Emmons taught at Kent State University and also operated the North Canton Planetarium out of a garage behind his home for many years, drawing an estimated 20,000 visitors.
The International Astronomical Union has numbered about 15,000 asteroids with well-known orbits, most of them — including Emmons — traveling the so-called “asteroid belt” between Mars and Jupiter.
About 250 are considered “potentially dangerous” because their orbits pass within 5 million miles of Earth’s.
But Emmons, which circles the sun every 3.4 years at an average distance of about 210 million miles, won’t come any closer.
David Gill, a founder and current treasurer of the Wilderness Center Astronomy Club, said he hopes to record an image of the rock for the retired astronomer.
“It’s a neat thing to have somebody local that’s honored this way,” he said. “And it certainly is a fitting cap to a lot of stuff Dick has done in his career.”
For more information, including star charts, see the astronomy club’s Web site at:
You can reach Repository staff writer Susan R. Schell at
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