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Dennis Schatz
Dennis Schatz is senior adviser at the Pacific Science Center. (Dennis Schatz via Amazon.com)

The Pacific Science Center’s senior adviser, Dennis Schatz, has achieved a kind of fame that so far has eluded the likes of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates: getting his name on an asteroid.

Asteroid Schatz joins more than 20,000 other “minor planets” that have been named after people, places and things. That represents only a small percentage of the more than 734,000 such objects that have been cataloged by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

It’s generally up to an asteroid’s discoverer to propose a name for approval by the IAU, in accordance with a set of naming rules. (For example, no dictators need apply.) On occasion, the Minor Planet Center takes requests.

In Schatz’s case, it was Larry Wasserman, a planetary scientist at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, who suggested the name. Asteroid 25232, previously known as 1998 TN33, was discovered in 1998 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search, or LONEOS.

Wasserman cited Schatz’s status as an astronomer and educator who was vice president of the Pacific Science Center, president and workshop leader for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the author of 23 children’s books on science, and co-developer of educational programs such as Project ASTRO and Portal to the Public.

Schatz told GeekWire that he’s gratified to be honored.

“It’s great,” he said. “The big thing is that it’s recognition of what I love doing: interacting with people, and science education in general.”

Other Seattle-centric asteroid names include Jimihendrix (named after the famous rock guitarist / singer / songwriter), Frankherbert (honoring the Tacoma-born author of “Dune” and other sci-fi classics) and Brownlee (paying tribute to University of Washington astronomer Don Brownlee).

Although there’s not yet an asteroid named Jeffbezos or Billgates, there is a space rock that pays tribute to Microsoft’s other co-founder, Paul Allen, who has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to scientific endeavors including the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array.

Schatz doesn’t make a big deal out of having a celestial body with his name on it. “I have to admit,” he said, “I haven’t looked out in space to say, ‘There it is!'”

Instead, he’s making a big deal out of this month’s total solar eclipse. And why not? He’s the co-author of a children’s book about eclipses, titled “When the Sun Goes Dark,” which is timed to take full advantage of America’s coast-to-coast rendezvous with totality on Aug. 21.

Tonight at 7 p.m., Schatz will give a presentation titled “Total Solar Eclipse 101” at the Pacific Science Center’s Paccar Theater. He’ll explain what causes solar eclipses, how to view then safely, and what makes this month’s event so special. Copies of his book will be available for purchase and signing.

Schatz will also be previewing the eclipse during three talks presented by the Seattle Public Library between now and Aug. 21:

  • Aug. 5  at 2 p.m. at the Seattle Central Library.
  • Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. at NewHolly Public Library.
  • Aug. 12 at 3 p.m. at West Seattle Public Library.

If you’re looking for Schatz on Eclipse Day, don’t look in Seattle, where merely 92 percent of the sun’s disk will be covered. He’s planning to be in the path of totality, in Prineville, Ore., where he has been planning a family reunion for 50 folks of all ages.

And if Schatz brings a telescope powerful enough, he just might be able to spot his asteroid in the stretch of sky between the constellations Aquarius and Capricorn.

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