Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA -- An asteroid circling the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and measuring 4 to 9 kilometers in diameter has recently been named after a 77-year-old Filipino scientist and former director of the Philippine weather service. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) last week officially christened minor planet No. 6636 as “Kintanar” in honor of Dr. Roman L. Kintanar, who headed PAGASA for nearly 36 years before retiring in 1994.
Asteroids are solid chunks of metal-rich rocks left over from the formation of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago. They range from small pebbles and boulders to the size of islands hundreds of kilometers across.
“This is such a big honor for me,” says Dr. Kintanar, who is a physicist by training (he received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1958). “I feel that my efforts in the past is well compensated by this unique accolade.”
We proposed the asteroid’s name to the IAU in recognition of Dr. Kintanar’s long service and innumerable contributions to the advancement and modernization of weather forecasting in the Philippines, as well as for inspiring future astronomers, including us.
The IAU, through its 16-member Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, is the sole scientific organization with the authority and responsibility of naming bodies in the solar system, such as planets, satellites, asteroids, and comets. In the case of minor planets, for centuries they have traditionally been named after mythological figures and geographical places, as well as renowned scientists, poets, composers, artists, novelists, and other prominent personalities.
The official citation for asteroid 6636 Kintanar, published in Minor Planet Center Circular No. 59384 on April 2, reads: “Roman Lucero Kintanar (b. 1929) directed the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration from 1958 to 1994. A dedicated public servant and distinguished scientist, he was president of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization during 1979-1987.”
According to the MPC Circular, the asteroid was discovered on September 11, 1988, by Bulgarian astronomer Vladimir Georgiev Shkodrov at Rozhen Observatory, and was given the preliminary designation 1988 RK8. It revolves around the Sun at an average distance of 338 million kilometers and takes 3.4 years to complete one orbit.
Asteroid 6636 Kintanar is currently about 261 million km from Earth, shining very dimly at magnitude 18 near the ecliptic, in the constellation Leo. One would need a fairly large telescope and a sensitive CCD camera in order to record its tiny, star-like image.
Kintanar joins a growing constellation of minor planets that have been named after Filipinos. It began in 1995, when the IAU named asteroid 6282 Edwelda in our honor. Edwelda, which is a combination of our first names, was bestowed on us in recognition of our accomplishments in the field of astronomy, including the book we wrote on Halley’s Comet, which was published in 1985 by the National Research Council of the Philippines. (American astronomer Carolyn S. Shoemaker discovered asteroid 6282 in 1980 from Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California.)
Seven years later, high-school teacher Josette Biyo and students Allan Noriel Estrella, Jeric Valles Macalintal, and Prem Vilas Fortran M. Rara were each honored with a minor planet for winning the 2002 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Louisville, Kentucky. Their asteroids -- christened 13241 Biyo, 11697 Estrella, 12088 Macalintal, and 12522 Rara, respectively -- were all discovered in 1998 by LINEAR, a robotic telescope in Socorro, New Mexico, operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory.
Then in 2005, asteroid 4866 became known as Badillo, after Father Victor L. Badillo, the former director of the Jesuit-run Manila Observatory in Quezon City and one of the founders of the Philippine Astronomical Society.
Edwin Aguirre and Imelda Joson are honorary members of the Astronomical League of the Philippines (www.astroleaguephils.org).