Asteroid belt

When a new asteroid is discovered and its orbit is established, the right to name that floating chunk of matter is given to the astronomer who found it. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, a lot of the people who dedicate their lives to astroscience exhibit other nerdy hobbies as well! At least, we have to assume so given the number of space rocks with apparent ties to anime, manga, and other mainstream media. Who would have thought that the heavens are so full of otaku references!?

The very first time an asteroid is observed, it is given a provisional number to indicate when it was found. If it is observed enough times that its orbit can be calculated, then it receives a designated number and the provisional name can be replaced by one of the discoverer’s choosing, provided it complies with the rules set up by the International Astronomical Union:

1. The name must be no more than 16 characters long (including spaces and hyphens) and be pronounceable.
2. Offensive words and the names of pet animals may not be used.
3. The name cannot match that of an existing asteroid.
And so on…

So what sort of names has Japan supplied our solar system’s celestial bodies with?

Although the names of corporate figureheads are not allowed, there are many asteroids named after anime and manga creators. 8883 Miyazakihayao is obviously named after the acclaimed animator and co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki. Then there’s 9081 Hideakianno and 300082 Moyocoanno, named after the co-founders of Gainax, Hideaki Anno and his wife Moyoko, the director of Evangelion and a romance manga artist, respectively.

Sometimes asteroids are named after fictional characters, such as 10160 Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro, or 15370 Kanchi and 15415 Rika, representing the main characters from Tokyo Love Story. There is even a superhero soaring through space by the name of 12796 Kamen Rider, as well as 12408 Fujioka, the name of the actor who first played the hero in 1971.

And sometimes sports rivalries become imprinted on the heavens, like with 26887 Tokyogiants and 29328 Hanshintigers, Japanese baseball teams from Tokyo and Koshien in constant competition.

Then there are the asteroid names that bear no specificity but reflect the Japanese spirit all the same. 6562 Takoyaki, for example, was named after the octopus balls popularized in Osaka, and 10585 Wabi-Sabi, though named by an American, embodies the Japanese attitude of finding beauty in nature’s imperfections.

So the next time you stare up into the night sky, remember the minor planets and think fondly upon the nerds who named them. Due to the development of automated search efforts, these orbiting objects are being discovered at a faster rate than they can even be named, but if you were to discover an asteroid someday, what would you call it?

Source: Naver Matome (Japanese)
Image: Space Answers