"I was kind of surprised, but I know Joe well enough to not be utterly shocked," Kankelborg, associate professor of physics, said of the man who named the asteroid for him.
Joe Dellinger, a friend, amateur astronomer and geophysicist for an oil company has named 13 asteroids so far. Kankelborg's is the most recent. Dellinger and Kankelborg attended graduate school together at Stanford University.
"I use the observatory on nights when the weather is cooperative, the moon isn't too bright, and I'm not too busy with work," Dellinger wrote in an e-mail from Texas.
Dellinger detected Asteroid 120120 on March 28, 2003 and recently completed the process of naming it after Kankelborg. In the application paperwork, Dellinger said the asteroid had a circular orbit which reminded him of Kankelborg, "an avid and well-rounded astrophysicist."
Kankelborg, a slim man, explained that he teaches physics, builds instruments that observe the extreme ultraviolet rays of the sun and analyzes information from those instruments. He also picks locks, rolls tamales, reads theology and shoots targets. He plays games with his eight-year-old daughter, Emma.
The Kankelborg Asteroid is too faint to see without a telescope. It's brightest when the earth is between the sun and the asteroid, Dellinger said. He detected it through an 18-inch Newtonian telescope from the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park, about an hour's drive from Houston.
"Kankelborg should be easily imagable every year, reliably," Dellinger wrote Kankelborg. "Don't look at how bright they are tonight. Look at how bright they get over a time span of, say, five years."
Kankelborg said some asteroids are large enough to be rounded by their own gravity, but he doubts his asteroid is that big.
"Anything that isn't discovered until after 2000 has to be really really small or really really far away. Since it's not so far away, it must be really, really small," Kankelborg said.
Dellinger said he named other asteroids after a favorite aunt who died of cancer, the town where his parents met, a husband-wife pair who helped pass a light pollution ordinance, a member of his astronomy club, a philanthropist, one of his thesis advisers, the son of another thesis adviser, the slogan of the Hawaiian astronomical society, a famous Colorado geophysicist, a pair of geophysicist/inventors, the state park where he observes asteroids and another solar astronomer who attended Stanford with him and Kankelborg.
Dellinger said he submitted the names to the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature for approval. The committee, part of the International Astronomical Union, is responsible for the names of small bodies in the solar system.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org