Asteroid named for Pittsburgh philanthropist Henry Buhl Jr.

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With a telescope, you can now see Henry Buhl Jr. orbiting across the night sky. 

The Pittsburgh dry goods seller and philanthropist, who died in 1927, has given his name to a foundation and a planetarium. On Friday, an asteroid was added to that list. The announcement was made by the Carnegie Science Center, home of the Buhl Planetarium, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary this fall. 

An asteroid is a rocky leftover from the formation of the solar system, visible only by telescope. “They are believed to be pristine relics,” said Frank Mancuso, producer at the Buhl Planetarium, who helped come up with the idea to name an asteroid after the famous Pittsburgher. The Buhl asteroid was first discovered by amateur Japanese astronomers in 1990.

n the 1980s and ’‍90s, there was a slew of asteroid discoveries by amateur astronomers in Japan, explained Gareth Williams, associate director of the Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts. Professionals were too busy tracking the objects that were threatening to collide with Earth. 

“Amateurs could come along and scoop up all the bright objects the professionals weren‘‍t interested in,” Mr. Williams said. 

Now that astronomers are using digital images instead of film, they can report every bright dot that their telescopes pick up, much faster than today’‍s amateurs can. 

But when Mr. Mancuso and his colleagues proposed this past spring that an asteroid be named for Buhl, Mr. Williams went back and selected one that had remained unnamed.

Getting approval for an asteroid name is easier than one might think. 

“Unless you write a terrible citation, or unless it’‍s a recent politician, or unless you come up with a name that’‍s completely unpronounceable, it’‍s pretty likely,” said Mr. Williams, who is one of 15 members of the Working Group for Small Body Nomenclature, which vets proposed names.

He added that of the 400,000 identified asteroids, only 18,00 have been named. 

Henry Buhl the asteroid orbits the sun between Jupiter and Mars. Four and a half billion years ago, as dust was accumulating to form Jupiter, the planet’‍s growing gravitational pull began to stir up adjacent chunks of rock so that they collided at high speed. Elsewhere in the solar system, slower collisions were causing bodies to meld together; there, the collisions were so fast and rough that the lumps broke apart even further. These pieces became the main asteroid belt, where Henry Buhl now resides. 

“It’‍s only a matter of time before one of them hits us,” Mr. Williams said. 

Eric Boodman: or 412-263-3772.

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