Asteroid Named For Kent State University Emeritus Professor To Pass Near Earth

Jim Szatkowski,

Posted Sept. 11

An asteroid (5391 Emmons), named after Kent State University emeritus physics professor Richard Emmons, is at its closest to Earth this week and may be detected by amateur astronomers. Depending upon weather and light conditions, it may be viewable for a week to 10 days.

It is currently located near the constellation of Pisces. Astronomers can locate the asteroid by going to the finder charts at

Emmons, 83, of North Canton, Ohio, is a retired physics professor at Kent State and a respected amateur astronomer who is active with the Wilderness Center Astronomy Club in Wilmot, Ohio.

The asteroid was originally discovered in 1985 by Eleanor Helin, principal investigator of the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) program of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. A few years ago she met Emmons, and learned about his dedication to the field. She suggested that the International Astronomical Union name the asteroid in his honor, and they did so two years ago.

The asteroid is about 10 miles wide and circles the sun at an average distance of about 210 million miles every three and a half years. "Right now it's at a favorable opposition, at 68 million miles, and is as close as it will ever get (to Earth). It won't be close again for 10 or 20 years. I'm glad this happens in my lifetime," Emmons said. It travels in the "asteroid belt" between Mars and Jupiter.

It is about 10,000 times fainter than the faintest star and will not be visible to the naked eye, Emmons said. At its brightest it will be about a magnitude 14, and will require a 10-inch telescope to view. Emmons said light pollution in populated areas might prevent astronomers from seeing it.

Emmons said he first became interested in astronomy as a teenager in 1932 when he read a story in Popular Science about an asteroid that just missed the Earth. He read books on the subject at home and in the Canton Public Library, and began his undergraduate education at Ohio Wesleyan, where he worked with the Perkins Observatory. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California and later a master's degree from Kent State.

From 1946 to 1950 he taught at the Canton Division of Kent State, the precursor to Kent State's Stark Campus. He then worked at Goodyear Aerospace for 20 years, before returning to his first love, teaching. He taught physics at the Kent State Salem Campus from 1970 until retiring in 1981.

Throughout his life, he was an advocate of amateur astronomy, with a particular interest in moving bodies such as asteroids and comets.

For more information, contact  his son, Tom Emmons, a lecturer in physics at Kent State.

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