What do Christopher Columbus, The Beatles and the Smithsonian Institution have in common? They all have a space asteroid named after them. Now the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has joined the ranks of people and places whose names appear on minor planets, as the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has named an asteroid in honor of the university.
Asteroid 271,763 was discovered by Dr. David H. Levy and Wendee Levy from Arizona, and Tom Glinos from Canada. Dr. Levy is a Canadian astronomer and science writer famous for his co-discovery of the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided with the planet Jupiter in 1994 in the first collision of two solar system bodies ever observed.
Dr. Levy wanted to name an asteroid after the Hebrew University since completing a PhD at its English Department in June 2010. His dissertation explored the relationship between the night sky and the works of Shakespeare and other writers in the early modern period of English literature.
The IAU's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature is charged with approving names for asteroids (also known as minor planets) and comets. After rejecting the originally proposed name "Hebrewuniversity" as being too long, the Committee later accepted the informal nickname "Hebrewu" and the asteroid's name was announced on November 2, 2012.
In his initial outreach to the university, Dr. Levy wrote, "Congratulations on being one of the few universities to be honored with a world in space. We have wanted to do this ever since I was awarded a PhD in June 2010 by the Hebrew University, one of the leading research institutions in the world. Perhaps someday the university, which I am proud to call an alma mater, will be able to put this new piece of real estate to good academic use. In the meantime, it is a world with sunrises and sunsets, much smaller but similar to our own."
Hebrew University President Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson said, "The Hebrew University is delighted by Dr. Levy's extraordinary gesture and proud to join the exclusive list of institutions whose names are recorded among the stars. Alluding to that which transpires beyond our planet's atmosphere, this gesture aptly symbolizes the Hebrew University's ambition to break through the limits of knowledge and research."
Only a few asteroids have been named for people or places in Israel, including its capital city Jerusalem, its first astronaut Ilan Ramon, and the writer and satirist Ephraim Kishon. It is estimated that less than 20 universities worldwide have an asteroid named after them.
Located in the asteroid belt that stretches between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter, Hebrewu poses no threat to Planet Earth and is not expected to draw near any time soon.
A citation written by Dr. Levy for the asteroid's naming reads, "Named in honor of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, often abbreviated as Hebrew U. It is one of the top research universities in the world. Founded in 1925 by a group that included Albert Einstein, the University has evolved into an institution that tackles traditional and interdisciplinary problems, such as the night sky in English Literature."
David H. Levy has been called "the rock star of amateur astronomers." One of the most successful comet discoverers in history, Dr. Levy has discovered or co-discovered 22 comets -- nine of them using his own backyard telescopes -- and more than 150 asteroids. He is involved with the Jarnac Comet Survey based at the Jarnac Observatory and is president of the National Sharing the Sky Foundation, an organization that inspires new generations to develop an interest in the sciences. His Hebrew University thesis, "The Sky in Early Modern English Literature: A Study of Allusions to Celestial Events in Elizabethan and Jacobean Writing, 1572-1610," was directed by Dr. Lawrence Besserman, now retired.
Wendee Levy is Director of the Jarnac Observatory and Secretary-Treasurer of the National Sharing the Sky Foundation. Tom Glinos is a Canadian amateur astronomer who has made contributions to the field for almost a quarter of a century and is active with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
Hebrew University Foreign Press Liaison
Hebrew University Spokesperson
Ranked among the top academic and research institutions worldwide, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem serves more than 23,000 students from over 70 countries. Producing forty percent of Israel's civilian research, the university is ranked 12th worldwide in biotechnology patent filings and commercial development. The Hebrew University was founded in 1918 by visionaries including Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber and Chaim Weizmann. Opened in 1925, the university is located on three campuses in Jerusalem and a fourth in Rehovot. Faculty and alumni have won seven Nobel Prizes and a Fields Medal in the last decade.