The Minor Planet Center holds over 680,000 asteroids in its archive. Around 430,000 of them are numbered, meaning their orbits are well enough known that we can predict (reasonably well) where they will be within the next decades. It also means they are available for naming.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has not decreed that all asteroids must have a name, and up until now only a few thousand do. Up until now…
The Minor Planet Center, in conjunction with the IAU’s Committee for Small Body Nomenclature (CSBN), will today begin naming all asteroids that are eligible to receive a name. Instead of leaving this onerous, yet delicate, task in the hands of asteroid discoverers or IAU bureaucrats (do they have a PhD in Nameology we ask), it has been decided that the whole process will be automated and, in the spirit of that great empire, Rome, be for the people, by the people.
Here’s how it will work: The Minor Planet Center will take the phonebook of Albuquerque, NM and work its way through it, naming an asteroid for each of the people listed (excluding businesses and organisations of any kind). Once we’re done with that, we’ll continue with the phonebook for Buffalo, NY; then Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; etc.
All people with an asteroid who also listed their address in the phonebook will receive a commemorative plaque of silver mounted on sustainably-grown mahogany, which will have their name, asteroid name, and asteroid details engraved on it (please allow 28 days for delivery). We are looking into the possibility of including a 3D hologram of the asteroid’s orbit, but we can’t promise anything yet.
We hope this program will increase the interest in asteroid science amongst the populations of Albuquerque, Buffalo, and other great alphabetically ordered cities in the USA, and will maybe encourage the citizens of Zieglersville, PA to start discovering some asteroids, cos we can tell you right now we don’t have enough asteroids to get to the Z phonebook. We also hope to extend this program to other cities worldwide, but we’re still ironing out the details with the United Nations (you wouldn’t imagine the politics of arranging international phonebooks in alphabetical order).
Our ultimate goal is for everyone in the world to have an asteroid named after them, at which point, people will have to make sure there is an unnamed asteroid available before they have a child.