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jueves, 18 de abril 2024
18/04/2024
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Universidad de Antioquia: its presence in the solar orbit

By Natalia Piedrahita Tamayo, Journalist

The discovery and naming of the asteroid “423624 Udeantioquia”, the result of the research led by Ignacio Ramón Ferrín Vázquez, professor at UdeA’s the Institute of Physics, has been officially recognized by both the International Astronomical Union and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), organizations responsible for celestial mapping for space mission planning.


Photo: Alejandra Uribe Fernández / Communications Office

In November 2005, after observing and studying the trajectory of an asteroid using the Schmidt telescope at the National Observatory of Venezuela, Astronomer Ignacio Ramón Ferrín Vázquez began to suspect that it was not registered in the known sky maps used by astronomers and space scholars. He decided to track it through the international data platform where astronomical discoveries are registered. One day, around 4:00 a.m., his suspicions were confirmed: It was a new object, and its trajectory had not been previously documented.

“The process does not stop at simply observing it. That's just the first step. The next step involves confirming its novelty. To do this, we rely on an international database that holds all known objects orbiting the Sun. Upon querying the database, it revealed that in that specific region of the sky, on that day and at that time, there was no other recorded object —confirming its newness. Then, I reported the discovery to the Minor Planet Center, which calculated the object’s orbit and determined that it was an asteroid traversing between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter,” explained the professor at the Institute of Physics of the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences.

On December 19, 2023, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) released a bulletin announcing the designation (423624) Udeantioquia = 2005 WZ156, officially naming this asteroid after Universidad de Antioquia.

The requirements for documenting such astronomical discoveries require rigor and mathematical expertise to determine their novelty for science, as well as research into the trajectory and characteristics of the celestial body. In addition, patience is crucial during the validation and officialization of data. Only by the end of 2023 did the International Astronomical Union certify the finding and extend an invitation to the scientist to name the asteroid.

“It goes by the name 423624 Udeantioquia. When I named it, I was not thinking about the chairs, tables, or buildings that constitute the physical spaces of the Universidad de Antioquia. Those are necessary, but they are not sufficient to sustain a university. The honor lies with the people —the students, administrative staff, workers, the president, and his team— each one of us who diligently contributes to our institution day in and day out makes up Universidad de Antioquia. So, the honor belongs to this collective force that propels our society forward,” said the Colombian-Venezuelan researcher, who proudly defines himself as a night owl, a quality that has enabled him to observe and study some of the universe’s peculiarities.

The numerical prefix, 423624, was the number of asteroids known in the solar system at the time Professor Ferrin named it in 2005. By 2024, this count has increased, with more than a million known objects orbiting the Sun.

The information on this celestial body is the following: “It completes an orbit around the Sun every 4.4 Earth years, maintaining a circular path. With 1.2 kilometers, it spans approximately 12 city blocks. It is a non-stop object. At this moment it continues its journey in space."

Origin of the word “asteroid”

Asteroids are like rocks or stones that orbit the Sun very fast. They are in a circular space in the Solar System known as the Asteroid Belt, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. “Aster” means “star,” and “oid” means “like.” Therefore, “asteroid” can be translated as “star-like.” The term originated in 1802 when British astronomers Caroline and William Herschel proposed that Ceres and Pallas, previously classified as “planets,” belonged to a novel category of celestial bodies.

A scholar of asteroids and minor planets


This image, captured by Professor Ferrín using the one-meter diameter Schmidt telescope at the Venezuelan National Observatory, is one of the original photos of the discovery. Photo: Ignacio Ferrín / Venezuelan National Observatory (CIDA.)

“Before arriving in Medellin, Colombia, I studied and worked in Venezuela. As brother countries, we share the same liberator. My scientific achievements are rooted in both countries. While I conducted observations in Venezuela, I continued my research on this and other celestial bodies at UdeA. I am deeply grateful to the University for accepting me into its staff and letting me carry out these investigations.”

Professor Ferrin holds a rare dual tenure, serving as a full professor at both the Institute of Fundamental Physics of the Universidad de los Andes in Mérida, Venezuela, and the Universidad de Antioquia. Additionally, he has served as the director of the National Observatory of Venezuela, in Mérida. His scholarly contributions are extensive, with over 60 research papers published and 35 graduate and postgraduate theses supervised. Furthermore, he has delivered over 400 conferences and lectures on astronomy in several countries. On September 7, 2020, the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce of Colombia granted him a patent for the invention an optical-mechanical system.

As for his contributions to the observations of celestial bodies, Professor Ferrín has discovered and studied two small planets, which he named 366272 Medellín (2003) and 347940 Jorgezuluaga (2003). That makes it three asteroids that Professor Ferrin has named in honor of Colombia. He has discovered several other asteroids, including 38628, 127870, 149528, 161278,159776, 196476, 201497, 128166, 189310. Now 423624 Udeantioquia, is added to this list.

The official recognition and naming of this discovery reaffirm the breadth of research conducted at the University. It underscores the interconnectedness between the educational setting of the Universidad de Antioquia and the vast reaches of the universe.

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