Monday, July 16, 2012

Frank Kameny: Not a Star but an Asteroid

Alex Knepper & Frank Kameny
Until last week, I had never known anyone who had had a planet named for him.

Now I have. The late Franklin Kameny, a Harvard-trained astronomer who became a civil-rights pioneer, now has a namesake planet -- a minor planet, to be sure, which is a technical term for asteroid, but still a planet.

Frank Kameny, a World War II combat veteran, died last October at the age of 86.  His career in gay-rights advocacy began in 1957 when he was fired from his federal government job (as a civilian astronomer for the U.S. Army) for no reason other than that he was gay.  In the 1960s, he and other early movement leaders organized the first pickets of the White House and the Pentagon by gay and lesbian activists.  

LGBTQNation identifies the asteroid as "minor planet 40463." An Associated Press report published in the Washington Post places the asteroid as between Mars and Jupiter. Its name is "Frankkameny" (one word, no spaces).

Jean Ann Esselink explains at The New Civil Rights Movement:
It was Canadian astronomer Gary Billings who initiated the request to name an asteroid after Dr. Kameny. When Billings read Dr. Kameny’s obituary, he sought out other astronomers to join him in a petition to name an asteroid Billings had discovered after the gay rights legend. The asteroid was officially dedicated July 3...
The Minor Planet Center's technical publication Minor Planet Circulars reported the asteroid's new nomenclature in its July 3 edition:
(40463) Frankkameny = 1999 RE44
Discovered 1999 Sept. 15 by G. W. Billings at Calgary.
Frank L. Kameny (1925–2011) trained as a variable star astronomer in the 1950s, but joined the Civil Rights struggle. His contributions included removing homosexuality from being termed a mental disorder in 1973 and shepherding passage of the District of Columbia marriage equality law in 2009.
Other recently discovered minor planets reported in the same edition were named for Wilhelm Brűggentihies, a biographer of astronomers; Molleigh Elena Struble, who passed away at age 16 after helping to design the Yerkes Astrophysics Academy for Young Scientists; Robert Grosseteste, a 13th-century English theologian; radio astronomer Osamu Kameya; 19th-century Czech philanthropist Vojta Náprstek; Slovak ice-hockey player Pavol Demitra; and a 15th-century Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas Didysis the Great, among others.

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