Hebrew U. stakes claim in space with namesake asteroid

Asteroid 271,763, now known as ‘Hebrewu,’ was found by one of the world’s most prolific asteroid discoverers and an alumnus of the university

Illustrative: An asteroid (Courtesy NASA)
Illustrative: An asteroid (Courtesy NASA)

Hebrew University has made a name for itself as one of earth’s top universities — and now its fame has spread to space. The university has joined the ranks of people and places whose names appear on minor planets, with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) naming an asteroid in honor of the university – with the asteroid appropriately name “Hebrewu.”

Asteroid 271,763 was discovered by David H. Levy and Wendee Levy from Arizona, and Tom Glinos from Canada. Levy is a Canadian astronomer and science writer famous for his co-discovery of the Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9, which collided with the planet Jupiter in 1994 in the first collision of two solar system bodies ever observed.

Levy wanted to name an asteroid after the Hebrew University since completing a PhD at its English Department in June 2010. His dissertation explored the relationship between the night sky and the works of Shakespeare and other writers in the early modern period of English literature.

In a letter to the university describing the naming, Levy wrote, “Congratulations on being one of the few universities to be honored with a world in space. We have wanted to do this ever since I was awarded a PhD in June 2010 by the Hebrew University, one of the leading research institutions in the world. Perhaps someday the university, which I am proud to call an alma mater, will be able to put this new piece of real estate to good academic use. In the meantime, it is a world with sunrises and sunsets, much smaller but similar to our own.”

Hebrew University President Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson said, “The Hebrew University is delighted by Dr. Levy’s extraordinary gesture and proud to join the exclusive list of institutions whose names are recorded among the stars. Alluding to that which transpires beyond our planet’s atmosphere, this gesture aptly symbolizes the Hebrew University’s ambition to break through the limits of knowledge and research.”

Only a few asteroids have been named for people or places in Israel, including its capital city Jerusalem, its first astronaut Ilan Ramon, and the writer and satirist Ephraim Kishon. It’s estimated that fewer than 20 universities worldwide have an asteroid named after them.

Located in the asteroid belt that stretches between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter, Hebrewu poses no threat to Planet Earth and is not expected to draw near any time soon, the IAU said.

One of the most successful comet discoverers in history, Levy has discovered or co-discovered 22 comets — nine of them using his own backyard telescopes — and more than 150 asteroids.

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