An asteroid that was discovered by astronomers working together from both sides of the Taiwan Strait in 2006 and named after the Aboriginal Tsou tribe has been recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), an academic source said on Thursday.
An IAU commission in charge of naming comets and minor planets recognized the newly discovered asteroid as “175586 = Tsou = 2006 TU106” on Dec. 12 last year, making it the first asteroid to be named after an indigenous Taiwanese tribe, said Yeh Yung-heng (葉永烜), vice president of National Central University (NCU) in Chongli.
Asteroid Tsou was first discovered at NCU’s Lulin Observatory on Oct. 15, 2006, through joint efforts by Ye Quanzhi (葉泉志), of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, and Lin Chi-sheng (林啟生), of the NCU Graduate Institute of Astronomy.
Ye first planned a photographic chart to allow Lin and his research team at the Lulin Observatory — which sits on a mountaintop at the border between Nantou and Chiayi counties — to acquire images using the observatory’s 41cm camera.
Ye then analyzed the findings before referring them to the IAU for confirmation.
Lin said asteroid Tsou was located in the orbit of minor planets, asteroids and comets between Mars and Jupiter.
It cannot be seen with the naked eye because it is too far away and too dim, Lin said.
A ceremony was held at NCU on Thursday in which a model of asteroid Tsou was presented to the Alishan rural township in recognition for the contributions made by the Tsou tribe in building the observatory.
Yeh said the establishment of the Lulin Observatory would have been impossible if not for the assistance of the Aboriginal people living in the area.
Yeh, who is also a professor at NCU Graduate Institute of Astronomy, said Taiwan’s indigenous people have a rich knowledge of astronomy that has been handed down orally from generation to generation, adding that people from the Tsou and Bunun tribes carried brick and cement on their backs up to the mountaintop — which is 2,862m above sea level — to build the observatory.
In addition, four Tsou men have been employed as 24-hour guards at the observatory, all year round, since the observatory was built in 1999, Yeh said.
The IAU’s recognition of asteroid Tsou came after publicity was generated by Comet Lulin — the first comet discovered by Ye and Lin in 2007 — at the beginning of this year.
Astronomers advised star gazers to make use of the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday to take a look at the comet, which would be visible low in the east-southeast portion of the sky before dawn.