23 April 2013 by Troy McConaghy, posted in Astronomy

smiling cat


When I was in grad school, I would sometimes design interplanetary missions to 1613 Smiley (hereinafter called "Smiley"). It's a main belt asteroid.

Why go to Smiley? We don't know a lot about it. There might be something interesting… But that's not the real reason I picked it. You can probably guess the real reason. It has the funnest name!

If you're familiar with asteroid names, then you'll know that the name "1613 Smiley" means, roughly speaking, that it was the 1613th minor planet to be discovered and to have its orbit confirmed. But why the "Smiley"? Is it an asteroid of perpetually good humor? Did it bring happiness to some astronomer? Does it periodically release plumes of laughing gas?

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) approves all new names for asteroids. They have a reputation for rejecting names that are too fanciful or silly (e.g. "Easterbunny" or "Xena" [the warrior princess]). How did "Smiley" sneak past them? Did some clever summer student insert it when someone wasn't looking? Was it an April Fool's joke that they forgot to undo?

Alas, there's a boring answer: Smiley is named after the American astronomer Charles Hugh Smiley (1903–1977). It was discovered in 1950.

References and Suggested Further Reading

The JPL Small-Body Database has lots of information about 1613 Smiley.

Image Sources

The photo of the smiling cat is by "Hello Turkey Toe" on Flickr and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

(I would have included a picture of a smiley face, but it's trademarked by the Smiley company and I don't want to get served with a trademark infringement lawsuit.)

About this Blog

Outer Spacing is a blog about space exploration and development. It's written by Troy McConaghy (@TroyMc on Twitter).


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