An amateur astronomer who discovered an asteroid earlier this year presented a model of his new discovery to Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) on Monday to share with residents of the city.
Tsai Yuan-sheng (蔡元生) and his assistant, Lin Chi-sheng (林啟生), discovered the asteroid at the Lulin Observatory on Yushan on March 20 and tentatively named it “Kaohsiung,” after his hometown.
In August, the International Astronomical Union’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature — an international organization responsible for the naming of asteroids and comets — formally approved the designation and gave Tsai’s discovery a permanent number, “215080.”
It was the first asteroid discovered by an amateur Taiwanese astronomy buff to win international recognition.
The asteroid, located between Mars and Jupiter, is similar in size to Kaohsiung International Airport.
At perihelion, the closest point to the sun in its orbit, the asteroid is 350 million kilometers from the sun; and at aphelion, its most distant point from the sun, it is about 450 million kilometers from the sun.
It takes about four years for the asteroid to complete its orbit around the sun.
Tsai and Lin spotted the asteroid with the aid of highly advanced digital equipment.
Tsai said he determined that the body rotated around its own axis while circling the Sun and that its position coordinates varied each day.
“I then took photos of the object consecutively for analytical comparison and finally came to the conclusion that it was an asteroid that had never been documented before,” Tsai said.
Tsai said most larger asteroids have been discovered and only small asteroids that cannot be easily detected are left to be spotted with highly sophisticated instruments.
Tsai, 40, developed an interest in observing stars while studying at a military preparatory school as a teenager.
At the time, he was required to stand guard at night, and the long hours with nothing to do led him to fall in love with stargazing.
He later dropped out of the naval academy to pursue his hobby. He now often takes his wife and children high into the mountains to observe the stars at night.
Tsai has documented 13 asteroids, but “Kaohsiung” is the only one to have been recognized by the astronomical committee.
“I was so happy to obtain international recognition of my latest discovery and decided to name it ‘Kaohsiung’ in honor of my beloved hometown,” Tsai said.
“I also want to share my happiness in discovering the new body with all fellow Kaohsiung residents,” Tsai said at the asteroid model presentation ceremony at the city’s Gangho Elementary School.
The mayor said the discovery of the asteroid and its designation were not only the “pride of Kaohsiung” but also the “pride of Taiwan.”
Chen said the city government would step up efforts to promote astronomical education and cultivate more talent in the field, adding that she had directed the city’s Bureau of Education to allocate NT$1 million (US$31,000) annually to help finance the operation of the Gangho Elementary School’s observatory.
She also proposed that an astronomy-themed science park be established after Kaohsiung City and County merge next year.
Tsai Ching-hua (蔡清華), director of the municipal education bureau, said the discovery of the asteroid had set a good model for the city’s astronomy education and pledged to study the feasibility of setting up an astronomy theme park in the new Kaohsiung municipality.
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