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Schoolchildren name newly discovered asteroid ‘Snowdonia’

Schools from across the UK have named a new asteroid discovered using the Faulkes Telescope Project’s facility in Hawaii. A mountain-sized asteroid, found between Mars and Jupiter, has been officially named Snowdonia as a tribute to the beauty of this famous Welsh region.

The asteroid was officially recognised as part of a Near-Earth Object observing programme with German astronomers Lothar Kurtze and Felix Harmouth. UK schoolchildren were recruited by the Faulkes Telescope (FT) Education Director David Bowdley in spring 2006. They conducted the follow-up observations necessary to better understand the asteroid’s orbit and ensure its recognition by astronomy authorities.

David Bowdley said: "Helping to study this asteroid and choose a name for it has been a great inspiration for the students. Working alongside real scientists has shown how much more can be achieved when people collaborate. In future we will be running many more projects like this where students work alongside astronomers to achieve real scientific outcomes."

Jay Tate from the Spaceguard Centre in Mid Wales is the project’s Near-Earth Object scientific advisor. He said: “Students working with the Faulkes Telescope Project produce some of the most important data on asteroids in the UK. Kids love it because they can watch things move, and more importantly because it’s real – a far cry from many sterile classroom activities.”

The schoolchildren had the final say on three name suggestions made by the German astronomers, and ‘Snowdonia’ was the clear winner. The name acknowledges the location of the FT Operations Centre at Cardiff University, as well as drawing attention to Snowdonia National Park.

The schools involved included: The Leys School in Cambridge, West Monmouth School in Pontypool, St David's Catholic College in Cardiff, Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury, University College School in London, Belmont House School in Glasgow and The Kingsley School in Leamington Spa.

Kerry Pendergast teaches Physics and Astronomy at West Monmouth School. He said: "Observing and naming the new asteroid added an extra dimension to students’ studies and helped them feel part of scientific discovery. When they had the chance to vote for a Welsh name there really was no competition!"

Anita Heward | alfa
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