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Asteroids named after AU researchers

Six researchers at Auburn University have asteroids named in their honor for their contributions to planetary science during the Asteroids, Comets, Meteors (ACM) conference last week in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Yaeji Kim, Youssef Moulane, John Noonan, Mohi Saki, Zexi “Lucy” Xing and Kumar Venkataramani were officially honored Wednesday.

Kim is a graduate student in aerospace engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. Moulane, Noonan, Saki and Xing are in the Department of Physics in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM. Venkataramani was a researcher in the Department of Physics in COSAM and is now at California Institute of Technology, or Caltech.

“These six researchers have made significant contributions to science, and they were nominated by multiple members of our community to have an asteroid named after them to reward them for their contribution to our field and inspire others to share their passion for astronomy,” said Dennis Bodewits, associate professor in the Department of Physics.

Kim, a graduate student, was awarded the prestigious Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship and the LSSTC Data Science Fellowship Program at Northwestern University.

Moulane, a postdoctoral researcher, is being honored for increasing awareness of science in Africa. Moulane, who observed a great comet earlier this year, was instrumental in bringing a major astronomy meeting to South Africa.

Noonan, a postdoctoral researcher, received a $493,072 grant from the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy to investigate the role of sulfur in comets. He is being honored for his work combining observations of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with the Hubble Space Telescope with gas measurements obtained by instruments on board the Rosetta space mission.

Saki, a postdoctoral researcher, used the James Webb Space Telescope to uncover core elements of Comet 238P. He was able to confirm water production rates and determine that it did not emit levels of carbon dioxide.

Xing was a visiting scholar at Auburn University and observed the first active interstellar comet 2I/Borisov and measured its water production rates, showing that the object was eroding rapidly. She also won the COSAM graduate poster award at the Auburn Research Symposium in 2021.

Venkataramani, a former postdoctoral researcher now at Caltech, conducted research on astronomical spectra. His research, using ground-based and orbital telescopes, has advanced our understanding of the chemical composition and reflectance properties of small solar system bodies.

“I am proud of all of the accomplishments these researchers have made,” said Bodewits. “Having an asteroid named in your honor is not only an incredible achievement very few scientists will ever have, but it will also inspire future generations of students to conduct research that could make a difference in the field of astronomy.”

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