Asteroid named after Bengaluru astrophysicist-professor Jayant Murthy

Murthy, who retired from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) in 2021, has been an honorary professor at the institute since then.


Published Mar 22, 2024 | 10:00 PMUpdatedMar 22, 2024 | 10:02 PM

Astrophysicist-professor Jayant Murthy

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) named an asteroid after Bengaluru-based Professor Jayant Murthy.

Murthy, who retired from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) in 2021, has been an honorary professor at the institute since then. He was also the acting director of the institute between July 2018 and October 2019.

“I have always been interested in astronomy since I watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon. So, yes, it’s a great feeling to be able to look up in the sky and spot my namesake asteroid,” Murthy told PTI.

On 18 March, IAU announced that asteroid 2005 EX296 had been designated as (215884) Jayantmurthy, in recognition of his work in the NASA New New Horizons Science Team to observe the ultraviolet background radiation in the universe.

“Just so you know, there are so many asteroids out there, So it is not hard to find one to name after someone,” said Murthy.

And it is not an honour strictly reserved for scientists, he said. “Among non-scientists, (chess grandmaster) Vishwanathan Anand also has an asteroid named after him.”

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The asteroid

The IAU’s Working Group on Small Bodies Nomenclature is a designated body that provides official names to all asteroids, comets and other small objects in the solar system.

According to a press statement issued by the IIA, “Jayantmurthy” was first discovered by MW Buie at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona in the US in 2005. It goes around the sun in an orbit that lies between Mars and Jupiter once every 3.3 years.

Murthy said his primary research interests are the interstellar medium and dust, ultraviolet astronomy, and space missions.

“I was nominated in connection with my work for the New Horizons team, led by Alan Stern. Many of my colleagues from the team were nominated too. I am working on the cosmic ultraviolet background, including the extragalactic light from Alice, on New Horizons,” said Murthy.

New Horizons was launched by NASA and flew past Pluto in 2015, studying it in unprecedented detail, and has since gone far beyond.

In the press release, IIA Director Annapurni Subramaniam stated that it is great news that an asteroid has been named after a former faculty of IIA. “It is a very rare honour, and I am happy to see Jayant getting this,” she said.

Apart from Murthy, former directors of IIA MK Vainu Bappu and JC Bhattacharyya have also had asteroids named after them — 2596 Vainu Bappu (1979 KN) and 8348 Bhattacharyya (1988 BX) respectively.

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