Asteroid named after Auburn engineering faculty member for contributions to planetary science

Published: November 14, 2017
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An Auburn University faculty member has joined an elite group of scientists and engineers whose contributions to planetary science have warranted an asteroid naming.

Masatoshi Hirabayashi, assistant professor of aerospace engineering, was honored with the asteroid naming at the "Asteroids, Comets, Meteors 2017” conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, earlier this year. Hirabayashi’s asteroid, 11471 Toshihirabayashi, was discovered on March 6, 1981 at the Siding Spring observatory in Australia by astronomer Schelte Bus.

After the discovery of an asteroid, it is given a temporary name and then a catalogue number when its orbit is more accurately determined. The International Astronomical Union’s committee on small body nomenclature is in charge of selecting asteroid names based on contributions to planetary science.

"Having an asteroid name is a rare and tremendous honor for scientists and engineers,” Hirabayashi said. "I am humbled that the committee placed such great value on my work, and I aim to continue producing influential research results in this area.”

Hirabayashi’s work focuses on astronautics and geophysical modeling for small planetary bodies and planetary surface processes, specifically the dynamics and structure of these small bodies. He believes his study on the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which was published in Nature, was a large factor in the selection of his asteroid name.

Hirabayashi plans to travel to Israel in February 2018 to observe his asteroid with a colleague who is an astronomer.

Hirabayashi’s Space Technology Application Research, or STAR, lab is collaborating with NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on missions that involve asteroids and other small bodies, such as the DART mission and the Hayabusa 2 mission.

"In space missions, a better understanding of natural phenomena in space will help us develop innovative technologies and solve challenging problems,” Hirabayashi said. "I would like to conduct interdisciplinary research for critical space missions, such as asteroid mining and deflection.”

Hirabayashi joined the Auburn Engineering faculty in August after spending two years as a postdoctoral associate at Purdue University. He earned his doctorate in aerospace engineering sciences from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 29,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.