UND researcher Sherry Fieber-Beyer was on her way to a concert when she got an email that an asteroid had been named after her.
“I was just like ‘wow,’” she said. “All I could say was ‘wow’ over and over and over. I can’t believe this. Still, all I can say is ‘wow.’”
Fieber-Beyer, a post-doctoral researcher and director of undergraduate research studies at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, has been studying asteroids for more than a decade. Her asteroid, 14825 Fieber-Beyer, is one she will study in the future.
“I give all asteroids the same level of attention,” she said. “I guess it would be kind of hard to not give it a little more, but we’ll see when I get to observe it. It’s all still so new.”
Her asteroid is about 4½ miles in diameter and is located near an area in the asteroid belt called a Kirkwood Gap where there are few asteroids. It was originally discovered in 1985 at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.
Most of the time the scientist who discovers an asteroid gets to name it, though the International Astronomical Union has the ultimate say in the naming process.
Fieber-Beyer said there are about 700,000 numbered asteroids in the known universe and only about 16,000, including hers, have names.
“I work in the field, and so a lot of times when a scientist works in the field and their work is exemplary, they are honored,” she said.
But Fieber-Beyer said it was a complete surprise to find out one had been named after her and she doesn’t know who nominated her for the honor.
Michael Gaffey, a faculty member in the Space Studies Department at UND, taught Fieber-Beyer as she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees. He said there are now four faculty members at UND who have asteroids named after them.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “It’s recognition. It’s basically the community recognizing this person has done good work and you can’t help but be proud.”
John D. Odegard, the namesake of UND’s aerospace school, also had an asteroid posthumously named after him in 2010. There is also an asteroid that was named after the state of North Dakota in 2009.
There are four UND employees with asteroids named after them. A source gave the Herald incorrect information, which was reported in “UND researcher honored with namesake space rock” on Saturday’s Page B1. The four are Sherry Fieber-Beyer, Mike Gaffey, Ron Fevig and Paul Hardersen.