Nuno Peixinho, an astrophysicist from the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC) and the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Science (IA), now has an asteroid named after him. The tribute came from the Working Group for the Nomenclature of Small Bodies (WGSBN) of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The asteroid, previously called (40210) 1998 SL56, was renamed (40210) Peixinho.
Discovered on September 16, 1998, this asteroid, just over 10 km in diameter, belongs to the asteroid belt and orbits the Sun at an average distance 3 times the distance from Earth to Sun, completing an orbit in about 5, 3 years.
For Nuno Peixinho, who works on the physical and chemical characterization of small bodies in the Solar System, having an asteroid named after him “is a difficult sensation to describe. Of course, I feel infinitely honored by this recognition of my work as an astrophysicist. Work that was never done alone, but always integrated in teams, and for that I thank everyone». The researcher wishes to thank the distinction not only to the University of Coimbra, which now hosts him, but also to the universities of Porto, Lisbon, Granada, Hawaii and Antofagasta, as well as to the Paris Observatory, institutions where he has worked throughout his career. .
The (40210) Peixinho is the type of asteroid that, if it came towards Earth, could cause a mass extinction event. “Knowing that there is now an asteroid out there in space the same size as the one that, presumably, when colliding with the Earth 66 million years ago led to the mass extinction of the Cretaceous-Paleogene, including the famous dinosaurs… me without words», comments Nuno Peixinho.
Due to the potential danger, the researcher at the University of Coimbra do IA pole was “soon to check which was its orbit to see if it was an asteroid classified as potentially dangerous. It is not! A hundred million years from now, he should still walk more or less in the same place, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince my grandfather of that».
Assigning the name to one of these bodies goes through a long process. It is initially given a provisional designation according to a well-defined formula involving the year of discovery, two letters and, if necessary, other figures (eg 1989 BC or 2002 LM60). When its orbit is sufficiently well determined, the body receives a permanent designation, which consists of adding a number to the provisional designation, issued sequentially by the “Minor Planet Center” — for example (341), or (40210).
Its discoverer is then invited to suggest a name, having this privilege for a period of ten years after the numbering of the object. All proposed names are evaluated by the Small Bodies Nomenclature Working Group. There are just over a million small bodies in the Solar System catalogued, about half a million already have permanent designations, but only 22,505 have names.
The list of scientists now awarded by the IAU is available at: