Venus “Quasi-moon” Just Got a Name. Henceforth, it Shall be Called Zoozve.

The children’s poster of the Solar System that features Zoozve, Venus's quasi-moon. Credit: Alex Foster/Latif Nasser

Ask any astronomer, and they will tell you that all of the planets in the Solar System (including those “dwarf planets”) have satellites, with the exception of Mercury and Venus. However, that is not entirely the case, as Venus has what is known as a “quasi-moon” – a large asteroid that orbits the planet but is not gravitationally bound to it. In 2002, astronomer Brian Skiff discovered this body using the Discovery Telescope at the Lowell Observatory (where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto). Until recently, this object was known by its official designation, 2002VE68.

However, on February 5th, 2024, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) conferred a new name for the object: Zoozve. The name was announced in a bulletin (vol. 4, no. 5) issued by the IAU’s Working Group for Small Bodies Nomenclature (WGSBN). The IAU, which is responsible for naming celestial objects, traditionally prefers to assign names that come from mythological traditions to objects that cross Earth’s orbit. But in this case, the origins of Zoozve’s strange name are more of (to quote Bob Ross) a “happy accident,” where a children’s poster that showed the object led to a conversation and an official request.

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Competition Will Let You Name an Exoplanet

Within the framework of its 100th anniversary commemorations, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is organising the IAU100 NameExoWorlds global competition that allows any country in the world to give a popular name to a selected exoplanet and its host star. Image Credit: IAU/L. Calçada
Within the framework of its 100th anniversary commemorations, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is organising the IAU100 NameExoWorlds global competition that allows any country in the world to give a popular name to a selected exoplanet and its host star. Image Credit: IAU/L. Calçada

When it comes to naming all those exoplanets that astronomers keep finding, it’s up to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to do the job. In an effort to reach out to the global community, they’re running a new contest. In honour of their 100 year anniversary, the IAU has organized the 100IAU NameExoWorlds event.

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Ep. 525: 100 Years of the International Astronomical Union

Even though they might be scattered around our planet, astronomers have way to come together to work out issues that face their entire field of study. It’s called the International Astronomical Union, and they’re the ones who work out the new names for stars, and sometimes de-planet beloved Kuiper Belt Objects.
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New Reasons why Pluto Should be Considered a Planet After All

New Horizons view of Pluto
The heart-shaped region of Pluto's surface was formed at least in part by a cataclysmic "splat," scientists say. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

In 2006, during their 26th General Assembly, the International Astronomic Union (IAU) passed a resolution to adopt a formal definition for the term “planet”. According to this definition, bodies that orbit the Sun, are spherical, do not orbit other bodies, and have cleared their orbits were designated planets. Pluto, and other such bodies that did not meet all of these requirements, would thereafter be designated as “dwarf planets”.

However, according to a new study led by Philip T. Metzger – a planetary scientists from the Florida Space Institute (at the University of Central Florida) – the IAU’s standard for classifying planets is not supported by the research literature on Pluto, and is therefore invalid. For those people who have maintained that “Pluto is still planet” for the past twelve years, this is certainly good news!

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The Solar System Gets A Second Mercury

Freddie Mercury on stage in 1977.
Freddie Mercury on stage in 1977. Image: By FreddieMercurySinging21978.jpg: Carl Lender derivative work: Lošmi - FreddieMercurySinging21978.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0

Freddie Mercury, the frontman from the rock band Queen, is getting his name etched in the night sky. No, they’re not naming another planet after him. That would be confusing. Instead, an asteroid will bear the name of the iconic singer.

If you don’t know much about the band Queen, there’s a connection between them and astronomy. Brian May, the band’s guitarist, holds a PhD. in astrophysics. He studied reflected light from interplanetary dust and the velocity of dust in the plane of the Solar System. But when Queen became mega-popular in the 70’s, he abandoned astrophysics, for the most part.

Brian May is still involved with space, and has an interest in asteroids. He helped the ESA launch Asteroid Day in June 2016, to raise awareness of the threat that asteroids pose to Earth. So there’s the connection.

As for the asteroid that will bear Freddie Mercury’s name, it was previously named Asteroid 17473, but will now be known as Asteroid FreddieMercury 17473. It’s a rock about 3.5 km in diameter in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Today would have been Freddie’s 70th birthday, if he were still alive. So this naming is a fitting commemorative gesture. According to the International Astronomical Union, who handles the naming of objects in space, the naming of the asteroid is in honour of “Freddie’s outstanding influence in the world.”

Brian May explains things in this video:

We’re mostly science-minded people, so you may be skeptical of Freddie’s influence in the world. He was no scientist, that’s for sure. But if you lived through Queen’s heyday, as I did, you can sort of see it.

Freddie Mercury was a very polished entertainer, with a great voice and fantastic stage presence. He mastered the theatrical side of performing as a rock frontman, and his voice spanned four octaves. The music he made with his band-members in Queen was very original. Mercury was a creative force, that’s for sure.

Check out “Killer Queen” from 1974.

Plus, William Shatner (aka Captain James Tiberius Kirk) clearly had a warm spot in his heart for Freddie and the rest of Queen. How else to explain his version of Queen’s timeless tune “Bohemian Rhapsody?”

If that isn’t a ringing endorsement of Freddie Mercury and Queen, I don’t know what is.

The asteroid that will bear Freddie Mercury’s name was discovered by Belgian astronomer Henri Debehogne in 1991. It travels an elliptical path around the Sun, and never comes closer than 350 million km to Earth. It isn’t very reflective, so only powerful telescopes can see it. But there it’ll be, for anyone with a powerful enough telescope to look with, as long as human civilization lasts.

Freddie Mercury isn’t the first entertainer to have something in space bear his name. In fact, he’s not even the first member of Queen to have that honor. An asteroid first seen in 1998 now bears the name Asteroid 52665 Brianmay, in honor of the guitarist from Queen.

Other musicians and singers who’ve had space rocks named after them include the Beatles, Enya, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Yes, and Bruce Springsteen. Authors Kurt Vonnegut, Vladimir Nabokov, and Douglas Adams and the characters Don Quixote, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson also have the honor.

As for the rock itself, Oxford astrophysics professor Chris Lintott told the Guardian, “I think it’s wonderful to name an asteroid after Freddie Mercury. Pleasingly, it’s on a slightly eccentric orbit about the sun, just as the man himself was.”

Freddie died in 1991 from complications from AIDS, but his music still lives on. Maybe Asteroid FreddieMercury 17473 will help us remember him.


Top 9 Weird Asteroid Names (and 1 Awesome Asteroid Moon Name)

An illustration of the Jabberwocky first published in 1871. Credit: Public domain/Wikipedia

Cats, celebrities and fictional creatures all have a home in the asteroid belt. That’s because the people that found these asteroids often have the privilege of naming the minor planets after anything they want — with a few guidelines, of course.

So what are the rules? According to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, all “minor planets” should adhere to the following guidelines:

– 16 characters long, or less;

– One word, if possible;

– Pronounceable, non-offensive and not too similar to names of other minor planets or natural  planetary satellites;

– If named after a military/political persona, 100 years must have passed since the person died or the event occurred;

– No commercial names;

– Names of pets are strongly discouraged. (More on that later.)

Below are some of the more whimsical names of asteroids. What’s awesome about them is how willing the discoverer was to show his or her light side on what must have been a solemn occasion for them.

9) James Bond (9007): This actually isn’t too surprising, since Bond has been to space a few times, most notably attempting “re-entry” during the film Moonraker. Still, it’s a fair stretch from flying the space shuttle to navigating the asteroid belt.

8) Odysseus (1143): This ever-patient sailor probably would have been unhappy with a trip into space in addition to seeing his friends die in war, fighting with the Cyclops and getting stranded far from home.

7) Beowulf (38086): Named after the hero in an Old English epic poem. He’ll be handy in case we come across any Grendel-like creatures in outer space.

6) Tomhanks (12818) and (5) Megryan (8353): Cue the “sleepless in space” jokes, which accelerated in other media when the two asteroids came within 40 million miles of each other in 2011 (relatively close for asteroids.) That said, Tom Hanks is a well-known advocate of the space program. He starred in Apollo 13, was prominent behind the scenes in HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon miniseries and is a friend of astronauts.

4) Apophis (99942): This asteroid has come under a lot of scrutiny because for a while, astronomers weren’t clear on if it would hit the Earth. But we know now it is definitely not a threat. The asteroid is actually named after a nemesis character in the sci-fi series Stargate SG-1.

3) Monty Python (13681): The famed British comedy troupe now has a permanent monument to their silly walks and elderberry insults in space. Not only that, but each of the members of the group has an asteroid named after him.

2) Mr. Spock (2309): This asteroid was not named after the famous Star Trek character, but after the cat of discoverer James B. Gibson. The feline, like its namesake, was also “imperturbable, logical, intelligent, and had pointed ears,” according to a notice published in September 1985 in the Minor Planet Center.

1) Jabberwock (7470): In the ultimate expression of gyring and gimbling in the wabe, Lewis Carroll’s famous Jabberwocky poem has a namesake. We just hope it didn’t inherit the jaws and claws.

We also wanted to mention another named asteroid, even though we don’t think it has a weird name at all: Asteroid 158092 Frasercain, named after our esteemed publisher of Universe Today. This asteroid was officially designated on August 21, 2008. You can read about it here.

Also, while looking for silly asteroid names, we stumbled across one that is quite meaningful and perhaps the most appropriate space name ever.

45 Eugenia has a moon called Petit-Prince, honoring  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. The children’s book follows the exploit of a boy who lived on an asteroid and explored other asteroids, as well as Earth.

You can explore the database for yourself here.