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ESA scientist Is highly honoured

26 May 2000

The Nomenclature Committee of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) today announced that asteroid 8640 has been named after ESA scientist Rita Schulz.
There can be few higher awards in the world of science than to have a celestial body named after you. This distinction has now been granted to Rita Schulz, a comet specialist who works at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in The Netherlands.

There can be few higher awards in the world of science than to have a celestial body named after you. This distinction has now been granted to Rita Schulz, a comet specialist who works at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in The Netherlands.

Following the tradition of giving names to numbered asteroids, Rita's name was recently proposed to the IAU Nomenclature Committee by Antonella Barucci, an astronomer at the Paris-Meudon Observatory, in recognition of her contribution to cometary research.

"This is a great honour, and I am delighted to have an asteroid named after me," she said.

Currently Deputy Project Scientist for the ambitious Rosetta mission to Comet Wirtanen, German-born Rita has been studying comets since 1986. While still an undergraduate student the University of Bochum, she discovered cyanogen (CN) shells in the coma of Comet Halley. After writing a thesis on this subject, she gained her Master's degree in Physics in 1987. She went on to obtain a PhD in Physics in February 1991 and a Master's degree in Chemistry in May 1991.

Rita later gained an ESA external fellowship and spent two years at the University of Maryland in the USA (1992-93). She then went to the Max-Planck-Institut-f|r-Aeronomie in Lindau, Germany, before moving to ESTEC in November 1996.

Asteroid 8640 (now to be known as 8640 Ritaschulz) was discovered by Ed Bowell at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, on 6 November 1986. Originally designated 1986 VX5, it was later given a permanent number once its orbit was determined more accurately.

8640 Ritaschulz is a fairly typical main belt asteroid. It travels around the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter at an average distance of 2.75 AU (2.75 times the Earth's distance from the Sun or 411 million km), completing one circuit every 4.56 years. Its orbit is fairly elliptical and inclined to the ecliptic (the plane of the planetary orbits) at an angle of 5.5 degrees. The object is estimated to be no more than 15 km across, so it is only visible using fairly powerful telescopes.


Last Update: 10 June 2003

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