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Dr Craig Bowers with his wife Carol and the certificate showing his minor planet’s new name. Photo: Matt Woods. Inset: 8138 Craigbowers in our solar system.

Astronomical namesake

By Melissa Sheil

A MINOR planet now bears the name of one of Perth Observatory’s most celebrated astronomers.

Minor Planet 1980 FF12 has officially been renamed 8138 Craigbowers, after Bickley resident and former astronomer Craig Bowers who worked at the Observatory through the 1980s and 1990s and now volunteers as its honorary historian.

“I admit it was a very emotional surprise when I was told of this honour,” Dr Bowers said.

“I never got into astronomy for the accolades, but I’m honoured and humbled.

“I join a small group of people that have had a similar honour at the Observatory which is very special.”

Though Dr Bowers was only told of the renaming recently, the process had been in the works for some time.

“It’s never a quick process as there are strict rules regarding who a planet can be named after and why,” he said.

“The person has to have contributed to the science in an important way.”

Perth Observatory administrator Matt Woods believes Dr Bowers certainly fits that category, having held the roles of observer, astronomer, historian and research director of the Perth Observatory Volunteer Group.

“As an Observer, he worked on the Perth 83 Meridian Star Catalogue which catalogued over 12,000 stars and monitored the orbits of double stars,” he said.

“This catalogue is still used to help direct modern satellites such as the Kepler, Hipparcos and Gaia space-based telescopes to refine our understanding of where we sit in the universe.

“He was heavily involved in the continuous Lowell/Perth telescope observations of Comet Halley during its 1985-86 visit to the inner Solar System, including the discovery of the jets of CN gas or phenacyl chloride, which is used in tear gas, leading to a revision of the estimated rotation of the Comet Halley’s nucleus.

His PhD thesis detailed the scientific history of Perth Observatory from 1960 to 1993.

“We wanted to acknowledge Craig’s work and dedication to the Observatory with this gift,” Mr Woods said.

Discoverers of minor planets are afforded the right to name them, though it is often a decades long process.

Minor Planet 8138 Craigbowers was discovered by Perth Observatory Senior Astronomical Observer Jeff Johnston in 1980, but the request to change its name was only approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) this year said former astronomer Peter Birch, who put in the application.

“Myself and ex-administrator Carmel Borg were discussing the immense amount of work that Craig has completed over the last four decades and agreed he should be rewarded by the astronomy community,” Mr Birch said.

“I already knew there were unnamed minor planets discovered by the Observatory and after searching the databases, I found 1980 FF12.

“I requested permission from Observatory management to apply to the IAU for  the change and surprised Craig with it in June.”

8138 Craigbowers is a 3km main-belt asteroid that  orbits the sun, sitting 325 million km away from Mars.

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