Hebrew University Gets Its Very Own Asteroid

The International Astronomical Union recently decided to name an asteroid in honor of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, at the request of Canadian astronomer David E. Levy.

Among its other illustrious accomplishments, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem can now boast of having an asteroid named for it.

The International Astronomical Union recently decided to name an asteroid that was discovered nine years ago in honor of the Israeli university, at the request of the Canadian astronomer David E. Levy and his wife, Wendee Levy. The Arizona-based couple discovered the heavenly body together with the astronomer Tom Glinos.

David Levy, who has discovered more than 150 asteroids over the past few decades, is best known in the astronomy community for his 1993 discovery of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which approximately a year later collided with the planet Jupiter. The collision spurred the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration to study near-Earth asteroids.

Hebrewu, the name given to the asteroid by the IAU's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, is located in the asteroid belt that stretches between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter, at an estimated distance of 160,934,720 kilometers from Earth. According to astronomer Paul Chodas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the diameter of the asteroid is just under two kilometers and it is not expected to pose a threat to Earth or to any other planet. "The asteroid appears to be safe inside the asteroid belt," Levy said.

Asteroid 271,763, as Hebrewu was known before it received its formal name, was discovered at the Jarnac Observatory in Vail, Arizona – more or less in the Levys' backyard – on September 17, 2004. At the time, Levy was studying English literature at the Hebrew University, and as he tells it, in a conversation with Haaretz, "Our office was turned into a kind of branch campus."

In 2010 Levy was awarded a doctorate for his dissertation on the night sky in the early modern period of English literature. "Ever since completing my studies I have wanted to give something back to the university," Levy said, adding, "after many months my offer was eventually accepted." Levy jokes, "Perhaps someday the university will be able to put this new piece of real estate to good academic use."

The IAU's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature recently acceded to another request from Levy and named two other recently discovered asteroids in honor of two Israelis he met during his period of living in Israel. The two are the Israeli astronomer Ilan Manolis and Lawrence Besserman, professor of English emeritus from Hebrew University.

Asteroids have previously been named for Israel and for Jerusalem, as well as for the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and the Israeli author and satirist Ephraim Kishon. Over the years the IAU committee has named asteroids for The Beatles, for the city of Rome and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

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."