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Bob McDonald

August 11, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight

Nudge, Nudge: Quirks & Quarks Host Rocked By Asteroid Honour

Loved by audiences across Canada for making complex scientific issues understandable, meaningful, and fun, Bob McDonald is in high demand. A fixture in broadcasting for more than 30 years, he is currently the host of CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks–the award-winning science program that is heard by 500,000 people each week–and is the author of numerous bestselling books. Much to his delight, Bob has recently learned that an asteroid has been named after him:

When Bob McDonald attended the Victoria Symphony Splash on Sunday, strangers greeted him in an unusual way.

“So many people said: ‘Hey, Bob, congratulations on the asteroid.’ ”

They were referring to the fact that McDonald — host of CBC Radio’s science program Quirks & Quarks — just had an asteroid named after him. It is called “Bobmcdonald” (asteroid names must be one word). Bobmcdonald is about one kilometre wide and 300 million kilometres from Earth.

“It’s about the size of Mount Doug, actually,” said David Balam, the Victoria astronomer who discovered it. He named it after McDonald because he’s a fan of his work as a journalist and educator.

McDonald is a genial 63-year-old with greying hair and a suntan. He got the tan while sailing his 41-foot sailboat around Vancouver Island. He learned of his asteroid while docked in Tofino. McDonald checked his email messages. There was one from Balam.

“It took me a minute to let it sink in, that this was real,” McDonald said. When he told his spouse, Sharon, she burst into laughter, not knowing whether he was joking.

“He just about fell overboard, basically,” said Balam, sounding pleased.

Incredibly, the 65-year-old astronomer has discovered 750 asteroids. Balam works mostly at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Saanich. However, Bobmcdonald was found using a telescope at the Mauna Kea observatories in Hawaii.

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that’s 4,200 metres high. It’s so high, the air is cold and lower in oxygen. The giant telescope Balam used “covers the area of four whole moons, just a huge chunk of sky.”

He discovered Bobmcdonald back in 2006, but it takes a while for the scientific community to acknowledge a new asteroid and approve its name. Everything must be confirmed by the International Astronomical Union, a committee of astronomers from around the globe.

To even reach that point, Balam had to calculate trajectories, check positions and predict the asteroid’s future path, while working around the visual impediments of the sun and the moon. Balam said the entire process can take between five and 15 years.

It’s incredibly precise work. Balam compares it to asking someone to stand on the Odgen Point breakwater holding up a dime while someone else at the Saanich observatory focuses a telescope on the coin.

A “rocking ceremony” is Balam’s term for telling someone an asteroid has been named after them. He likes to surprise the recipient.

In 1994, he named one after Russell Robb, a University of Victoria astronomy teacher. Balam had a cake made in the shape of an asteroid, then surprised Robb as he walked into a class.

“He was just rocked off his feet,” said the astronomer, who plays bass in R&B bands in his spare time. “Sometimes people go into shock, actually.”

Having an asteroid named after you is good bragging rights. So I asked Balam whether he has used it as a pickup line. You know: “Hey babe, how would you like to have an asteroid named after you?” He laughed and said: “I’m very happily married to a Dutch girl.”

That’s not to make light of the experience. McDonald has had a lifelong passion for outer space. So the asteroid thing is an especially big deal. His interest was kindled as an eight-year-old when his mother returned from shopping with a 69-cent book, Planets: Other Worlds of Our Solar System. As a science journalist, he has covered many planetary mission launches. In October, McDonald will publish his own book, Canadian Spacewalkers, about astronauts Chris Hadfield, Steve MacLean and Dave Williams.

He can’t believe he has given his name to a minor planet, an honour bestowed on Greek and Roman gods and the likes of Galileo (the moons of Jupiter are known as the Galilean moons).

“I’m on the same list! It’s a way of being immortalized,” said McDonald, who is still “somewhat dazed” by what’s transpired. “I never thought that I would be even considered.”

Another recipient of a Balam rocking ceremony is Ken Tapping, whose two-kilometre-wide asteroid is simply named Tapping. A physicist who works at the White Lake Observatory near Penticton, he first learned of the honour during what he thought would be a routine day.

“It must have been the first time I used a four-letter word at a staff meeting,” said Tapping, who describes Balam as one of the world’s leading asteroid discoverers.

Like McDonald, Tapping found himself deeply and mysteriously moved upon learning of his new connection to the universe. There is, he says, “something magical” about it. Ditto for New York jazz musician Jane Ira Bloom, whose asteroid is Janeirabloom. Astronomer Brian Skiff of Flagstaff, Arizona, conferred the honour upon her in 1998.

“He says it has a very eccentric orbit, which sort of likens itself to me, I guess,” Bloom said with a chuckle.

McDonald is not only thrilled about his asteroid naming, he’s happy Bobmcdonald is one of the good guys — as least as minor planets go.

“Thankfully, it’s not on an orbit that intersects with the Earth. If it was, it would be kind of a really bad day for civilization.”

By Adrian Chamberlin/Times Colonist/August, 2014

 

 

When Bob McDonald attended the Victoria Symphony Splash on Sunday, strangers greeted him in an unusual way.

“So many people said: ‘Hey, Bob, congratulations on the asteroid.’ ”

They were referring to the fact that McDonald — host of CBC Radio’s science program Quirks & Quarks — just had an asteroid named after him. It is called “Bobmcdonald” (asteroid names must be one word). Bobmcdonald is about one kilometre wide and 300 million kilometres from Earth.

“It’s about the size of Mount Doug, actually,” said David Balam, the Victoria astronomer who discovered it. He named it after McDonald because he’s a fan of his work as a journalist and educator.

McDonald is a genial 63-year-old with greying hair and a suntan. He got the tan while sailing his 41-foot sailboat around Vancouver Island. He learned of his asteroid while docked in Tofino. McDonald checked his email messages. There was one from Balam.

“It took me a minute to let it sink in, that this was real,” McDonald said. When he told his spouse, Sharon, she burst into laughter, not knowing whether he was joking.

“He just about fell overboard, basically,” said Balam, sounding pleased.

Incredibly, the 65-year-old astronomer has discovered 750 asteroids. Balam works mostly at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Saanich. However, Bobmcdonald was found using a telescope at the Mauna Kea observatories in Hawaii.

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that’s 4,200 metres high. It’s so high, the air is cold and lower in oxygen. The giant telescope Balam used “covers the area of four whole moons, just a huge chunk of sky.”

He discovered Bobmcdonald back in 2006, but it takes a while for the scientific community to acknowledge a new asteroid and approve its name. Everything must be confirmed by the International Astronomical Union, a committee of astronomers from around the globe.

To even reach that point, Balam had to calculate trajectories, check positions and predict the asteroid’s future path, while working around the visual impediments of the sun and the moon. Balam said the entire process can take between five and 15 years.

It’s incredibly precise work. Balam compares it to asking someone to stand on the Odgen Point breakwater holding up a dime while someone else at the Saanich observatory focuses a telescope on the coin.

A “rocking ceremony” is Balam’s term for telling someone an asteroid has been named after them. He likes to surprise the recipient.

In 1994, he named one after Russell Robb, a University of Victoria astronomy teacher. Balam had a cake made in the shape of an asteroid, then surprised Robb as he walked into a class.

“He was just rocked off his feet,” said the astronomer, who plays bass in R&B bands in his spare time. “Sometimes people go into shock, actually.”

– See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/nudge-nudge-quirks-quarks-host-rocked-by-asteroid-honour-1.1302964#sthash.4D0wCnsJ.dpuf