Asteroid named for William Brydone Jack

As part of UNB’s 225th anniversary activities, alumni, friends and members of the university community gathered on Jan. 13, 2011, to celebrate the scientific accomplishments of William Brydone Jack and the recent naming of an asteroid in his honour.

There are an estimated 1.1 to 1.9 million asteroids in our solar system, about 40,000 of them in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  Some 3,000 of these “planetoids” or minor planets have been catalogued.  No asteroid is awarded a name until it has been observed long enough for its orbit to be determined with a fair degree of precision. This may take several years, but when it is achieved the body is awarded a “permanent designation” (a number issued in strict numerical sequence) and the discoverer is invited to suggest a name for approval by a special committee of the International Astronomical Union.  Names include mythological characters, famous people of the past and present, and personal family members.

An admirer of Dr. Jack’s pioneering work in Canadian astronomy, UNB alumnus Don Kelly, an avid amateur astronomer, former science teacher and past president of the Brydone Jack branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) in Fredericton, proposed that the club apply for a name.  As it happened, John Spray, director of UNB’s Planetary and Space Science Centre, is a good friend of the distinguished American astronomer Carolyn Shoemaker, who has discovered many asteroids.  She donated one of her unnamed asteroids and, with her support, the application was approved in time for the national meeting of the RASC last July in Fredericton. 

The citation for asteroid (79117) Brydonejack reads: “Dr. William Brydone Jack is recognized as a father of Canadian astronomy.  He built British North America’s first astronomical observatory in 1851.  Dr. Jack practiced public outreach in astronomy.  He determined Canada’s first longitude readings, delivered the first engineering lecture and created the first engineering chair in Canada.”

Visible only with a very powerful telescope, Brydonejack is located in the asteroid belt and has a Mars crossing orbit.