Whanganui connection to new asteroid

By John Maslin -
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The asteroid Jennie McCormick discovered now has a name - New Zealand. Photo/Michael Cunningham.
The asteroid Jennie McCormick discovered now has a name - New Zealand. Photo/Michael Cunningham.

An asteroid discovered by a former Whanganui woman now has an official name.

Jennie McCormick, born and educated in Whanganui, made her discovery in September, 2009 when the asteroid happened to be at its closest point to Earth and at its brightest.

Ms McCormick said the heavenly object was exceedingly faint and could easily have been missed.

She said she noticed the very faint moving object in images she was making of a comet at her Farm Cove observatory overlooking the Wakaaranga Estuary in the Auckland suburb of Pakuranga.

It was a lucky coincidence that both objects just happened to lie within the narrow field of her telescope.

Since Ms McCormick's discovery the "New Zealand" has been observed by observatories around the world and its orbit is now well determined. It orbits the sun once every 3.49 years and comes closest to Earth only once every seven years. It was during one of these closer passes to Earth that she spotted it.

Born Jennie Brown, she was schooled at Keith St School, spent some time at Christ Church Preparatory then started her secondary schooling at Whanganui Girls' College. The family shifted to Auckland when she was 15.

As for the name of the asteroid, she submitted it to the International Astronomical Union which has now given it official approval.

Her discovery also saw her become the 13th Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand.

Ms McCormick's first international astronomical success came in 2005, when, in collaboration with astronomers in other parts of the world, she played her part in discovering a new planet.

The planet - given the title of OGLE-2005-BLG-071 (071 for short) - was discovered orbiting a star towards the centre of our Milky Way about 15,000 light-years away from Earth.

That celestial find made her the first amateur astronomer since William Herschel spotted Uranus on March 13, 1781, to discover a planet orbiting a distant star.

Overall this amateur astronomer has contributed to the discovery of 19 exoplanets - planets orbiting other stars.

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