A formal minor-planet designation is, in its final form, a number–name combination given to a minor planet (asteroid, centaur, trans-Neptunian object and dwarf planet but not comet). Such designation always features a leading number (catalog or IAU number) assigned to a body once its orbital path is sufficiently secured (so-called "numbering"). The formal designation is based on the minor planet's provisional designation, which was previously assigned automatically when it had been observed for the first time. Later on, the provisional part of the formal designation may be replaced with a name (so-called "naming"). Both formal and provisional designations are overseen by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), a branch of the International Astronomical Union.
Currently a number is assigned only after the orbit has been secured by four well-observed oppositions.For unusual objects, such as near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), numbering might already occur after three, maybe even only two, oppositions. Among more than half a million minor planets that received a number, only about 20 thousand (or 4%) have received a name. In addition, approximately 400,000 minor planets have not even been numbered.
The convention for satellites of minor planets, such as the formal designation (87) Sylvia I Romulus for the asteroid moon Romulus, is an extension of the Roman numeral convention that had been used, on and off, for the moons of the planets since Galileo's time. Comets are also managed by the MPC, but use a different cataloguing system.
A formal designation consists of two parts: a catalog number, historically assigned in approximate order of discovery, and either a name, typically assigned by the discoverer, or, the minor planet's provisional designation.
The permanent syntax is:
(number) Provisional designation
(number) Name; with or without parentheses
For example, the unnamed minor planet (388188) 2006 DP14 has its number always written in parentheses, while for named minor planets such as (274301) Wikipedia, the parentheses may be dropped as in 274301 Wikipedia. Parentheses are now often omitted in prominent databases such as the JPL Small-Body Database (SBDB).
Since minor-planet designations change over time, different versions may be used in astronomy journals. When the main-belt asteroid 274301 Wikipedia was discovered in August 2008, it was provisionally designated 2008 QH24 , before it received a number and was then written as (274301) 2008 QH24 . On 27 January 2013, it was named Wikipedia after being published in the Minor Planet Circulars.
According to the preference of the astronomer and publishing date of the journal, 274301 Wikipedia may be referred to as 2008 QH24, or simply as (274301). In practice, for any reasonably well-known object the number is mostly a catalogue entry, and the name or provisional designation is generally used in place of the formal designation. So Pluto is rarely written as 134340 Pluto, and 2002 TX300 is more commonly used than the longer version (55636) 2002 TX300 .
By 1851 there were 15 known asteroids, all but one with their own symbol. The symbols grew increasingly complex as the number of objects grew, and, as they had to be drawn by hand, astronomers found some of them difficult. This difficulty was addressed by Benjamin Apthorp Gould in 1851, who suggested numbering asteroids in their order of discovery, and placing this number in a circle as the symbol for the asteroid, such as ④ for the fourth asteroid, Vesta. This practice was soon coupled with the name itself into an official number–name designation, "④ Vesta", as the number of minor planets increased. By the late 1850s, the circle had been simplified to parentheses, "(4)" and "(4) Vesta", which was easier to typeset. Other punctuation such as "4) Vesta" and "4, Vesta" was also used, but had more or less completely died out by 1949.
The major exception to the convention that the number tracks the order of discovery or determination of orbit is the case of Pluto. Since Pluto was initially classified as a planet, it was not given a number until a 2006 redefinition of "planet" that excluded it. At that point, Pluto was given the formal designation (134340) Pluto.
An asteroid is a minor planet of the inner Solar System. Historically, these terms have been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the Sun that did not resolve into a disc in a telescope and was not observed to have characteristics of an active comet such as a tail. As minor planets in the outer Solar System were discovered that were found to have volatile-rich surfaces similar to comets, these came to be distinguished from the objects found in the main asteroid belt. The term "asteroid" refers to the minor planets of the inner Solar System, including those co-orbital with Jupiter. Larger asteroids are often called planetoids.
15760 Albion, provisional designation 1992 QB1, was the first trans-Neptunian object to be discovered after Pluto and Charon. Measuring about 108–167 kilometres in diameter, it was discovered in 1992 by David C. Jewitt and Jane X. Luu at the Mauna Kea Observatory, Hawaii. After the discovery, they dubbed the object "Smiley" and it was shortly hailed as the tenth planet by the press. It is a "cold" classical Kuiper belt object and gave rise to the name cubewano for this kind of object, after the QB1 portion of its designation. Decoding its provisional designation, "QB1" reveals that it was the 27th object found in the second half of August of that year. As of January 2018, around 2,400 further objects have been found beyond Neptune, a majority of which are classical Kuiper belt objects. It was named after Albion from William Blake's mythology.
In ancient times, only the Sun and Moon, a few stars, and the most easily visible planets had names. Over the last few hundred years, the number of identified astronomical objects has risen from hundreds to over a billion, and more are discovered every year. Astronomers need to be able to assign systematic designations to unambiguously identify all of these objects, and at the same time give names to the most interesting objects, and where relevant, features of those objects.
Provisional designation in astronomy is the naming convention applied to astronomical objects immediately following their discovery. The provisional designation is usually superseded by a permanent designation once a reliable orbit has been calculated. Approximately a third of the more than 900,000 known minor planets remain provisionally designated, as hundreds of thousands have been discovered in the last two decades.
The naming of moons has been the responsibility of the International Astronomical Union's committee for Planetary System Nomenclature since 1973. That committee is known today as the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN).
The definition of planet, since the word was coined by the ancient Greeks, has included within its scope a wide range of celestial bodies. Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai, "wandering stars", for star-like objects which apparently moved over the sky. Over the millennia, the term has included a variety of different objects, from the Sun and the Moon to satellites and asteroids.
José Luis Ortiz Moreno is a Spanish astronomer, and former Vicedirector of Technology at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA), Spain. He leads a team working on minor planets at the Sierra Nevada Observatory in Granada, Spain. The main-belt asteroid 4436 Ortizmoreno was named in his honor.
A dwarf planet is a small planetary-mass object that is in direct orbit of the Sun – something smaller than any of the eight classical planets, but still a world in its own right. The prototypical dwarf planet is Pluto. The interest of dwarf planets to planetary geologists is that, being possibly differentiated and geologically active bodies, they may display planetary geology, an expectation borne out by the 2015 New Horizons mission to Pluto.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined in August 2006 that, in the Solar System, a planet is a celestial body that:
Eris is the most massive and second-largest known dwarf planet in the Solar System. Eris is a trans-Neptunian object (TNO), has a high-eccentricity orbit, and is a member of the scattered disk. Eris was discovered in January 2005 by a Palomar Observatory-based team led by Mike Brown, and its discovery was verified later that year. In September 2006 it was named after the Greco-Roman goddess of strife and discord. Eris is the ninth-most massive known object orbiting the Sun, and the sixteenth-most massive overall in the Solar System. It is also the largest object that has not been visited by a spacecraft. Eris has been measured at 2,326 ± 12 kilometers (1,445 ± 7 mi) in diameter. Its mass is 0.27 percent that of the Earth and 127 percent that of dwarf planet Pluto, though Pluto is slightly larger by volume. As Eris orbits the Sun, it completes one rotation every 25.9 hours, making its day length similar to Earth's. However, other sources disagree on the rotation period.
A minor planet is an astronomical object in direct orbit around the Sun that is neither a planet nor exclusively classified as a comet. Before 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially used the term minor planet, but during that year's meeting it reclassified minor planets and comets into dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies (SSSBs).
50000 Quaoar, provisional designation 2002 LM60, is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a region of icy planetesimals beyond Neptune. A non-resonant object (cubewano), it measures approximately 1,121 km (697 mi) in diameter, about half the diameter of Pluto. The object was discovered by American astronomers Chad Trujillo and Michael Brown at the Palomar Observatory on 4 June 2002. Signs of water ice on the surface of Quaoar have been found, which suggests that cryovolcanism may be occurring on Quaoar. A small amount of methane is present on its surface, which can only be retained by the largest Kuiper belt objects. In February 2007, Weywot, a synchronous moon in orbit around Quaoar, was discovered by Brown. Weywot is measured to be 170 km (110 mi) across. Both objects were named after mythological figures from the Native American Tongva people in Southern California. Quaoar is the Tongva creator deity and Weywot is his son.
Kerberos is a small natural satellite of Pluto, about 19 km (12 mi) in its longest dimension. It was the fourth moon of Pluto to be discovered and its existence was announced on 20 July 2011. It was imaged, along with Pluto and its four other moons, by the New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015. The first image of Kerberos from the flyby was released to the public on 22 October 2015.
Styx is a small natural satellite of Pluto whose discovery was announced on 11 July 2012. It was discovered by use of the Hubble Space Telescope. As of 2020, it is the smallest known moon of Pluto. It was imaged along with Pluto and Pluto's other moons by the New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015, albeit poorly with only a single image of Styx obtained.
274301 Wikipedia, provisional designation 2008 QH24, is a Vestian asteroid orbiting in the inner region of the asteroid belt, approximately 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) in diameter. It was discovered on 25 August 2008 by astronomers at the Andrushivka Astronomical Observatory in northern Ukraine. The asteroid was named after the online encyclopedia Wikipedia in January 2013.
Comets have been observed for over 2,000 years. During that time, several different systems have been used to assign names to each comet, and as a result many comets have more than one name.
541132 Leleākūhonua, provisionally designated 2015 TG387, is an extreme trans-Neptunian object and sednoid in the outermost part of the Solar System. It was first observed on 13 October 2015, by astronomers at the Mauna Kea Observatories, Hawaii. Based on its discovery date and the letters in its provisional designation 2015 TG387, the object was informally nicknamed "The Goblin" by its discoverers and later named Leleākūhonua, comparing its orbit to the flight of the Pacific golden plover. It was the third sednoid discovered, after Sedna and 2012 VP113, and measures around 220 kilometers (140 miles) in diameter.