Asteroid (66458) Romaplanetario is back: a new image – 31 May 2024

We observed asteroid (66458) Romaplanetario four years after its last visit. Discovered on 22 Aug. 1999 by Gianluca Masi, its official name was proposed by him to celebrate the re-opening of the Planetarium of Rome, one of the oldest ones in the world. Accepted by the International Astronomical Union, the name was made public in 2005. To our knowledge, it was the first asteroid ever to be named after a planetarium.

Asteroid (66458) Romaplanetario. 31 May 2024.

Asteroid (66458) Romaplanetario. 31 May 2024.

The image above comes from the average of three, 300-second exposures, remotely taken with the Celestron C14+Paramount ME+SBIG ST8-XME robotic unit available as part of the Virtual Telescope Project, Manciano (Italy).

It is the first time we spot this rock since 2020, when it had its last favorable apparition. Now, it is slowly preparing for its next apparition, but we wanted to see it as soon as possible. The image above was taken while (66458) Romaplanetario was still low above the horizon, but it is firmly there. At the imaging time, the asteroid was at 235 million of km from the Earth.

It was discovered on 22 Aug.1999 by Gianluca Masi, that is me, from Ceccano (MPC code: 470). Once its orbit was established with good confidence, it was numbered, ready to receive a name. At that point, as a general rule, the discoverer had the right to propose a name, with proper motivation, to the Committee for Small Bodies Nomenclature (now Working Group for Small Bodies Nomenclature) of the International Astronomical Union. If accepted, that name would have became the official one for that body in the astronomical literature and nomenclature. I asked to name my discovery “Romaplanetario”, to celebrate its re-opening in 2004, after many years since it was closed in 1984.

The official name was eventually announced in 2005, on the occasion of the 1st Birthday of the new Planetarium of Rome: I still remember the emotion of that time, but also the very moment when I did send the naming proposal and citation to late Brian G. Marsden, a very good friend of mine, at that time Director of the Minor Planet Center, who helped shaping the citation. This is the official, public citation:

“66458 Romaplanetario

Discovered 1999 Aug. 22 by G. Masi at Ceccano. Without a planetarium for more than 22 years, the Everlasting City now has a modern one, opened in 2004. Hosted at the Museo della Civiltà Romana, it has a 14-meter dome. The discoverer contributes with the staff to introduce visitors to the wonders of the universe.”

A careful search at that time, indicated that the Planetarium of Rome, opened on 28 Oct. 1928 and being the first planetarium ever to have been built outside Germany,was also the first one to have a celestial body officially named after it.

Incredibly, “Romaplanetario” is back in our sky exactly 20 years after the new Planetarium of Rome was re-opened (26 May 2004), perfectly on time to celebrate its 1007331 visitors in 20 years.

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