Planetoids 12655 and 12652 named Benferinga and Groningen
‘The Benferinga asteroid is approximately ten kilometres in diameter’, says RUG astronomer Theo Jurriens. Anyone who wants to see it themselves has to try their best: ‘Feringa is currently just past its orbit around Mars. If you have a large, photographic telescope, you might be able to spot it.’
Every year, the IAU names various planetoids. Most of the time, only a handful of them are named after anything in the Netherlands. ‘Off the top of my head it’s about five to ten Dutch people every year’, says Jurriens.
Benferinga and Groningen, so named because of the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute at the RUG, are in good company in outer space. In previous years, the IAU named planetoids after André Kuipers, Wubbo Okkels, and the RUG’s first Nobel Prize winner Frits Zernike. RUG astronomer Amina Helmi also has an asteroid named after her.
In addition to Ben Feringa and the city of Groningen, the IAU also honoured another RUG academic on 6 April: Ger de Bruijn. De Bruijn – who passed away in 2017 – was a professor of radio-astronomy affiliated with the Kapteyn Institute Groningen. Asteroid 12656 will henceforth be known as Gerdebruijn.
The three planetoids were discovered by Leiden astronomy couple the Van Houtens in 1977.