Once in a while something comes across my desktop that piques my curiosity and causes me to look a little deeper. Often, when I take the time to dig, I find gold at the end of the rainbow that makes me glad I did the research.
Yesterday I received an electronic telegram from the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams that mentioned a new discovery about a named minor planet. The minor planet's name is (6708) Bobbievaile. After reading the news about Bobbievaile I thought I'd Google Bobbie Vaile to find out just who he was and what he did that was so remarkable they named the 6708th asteroid discovered after him.
Secretly, one of my wishes is to have an asteroid named after me one day. I have several friends and colleagues who have been honored this way, Arne Henden, Janet Mattei, Albert Jones, John Bortle, Hazel McGee, Gary Billings, Bill Dillon, Reinder Bouma, George Comello, Tom Cragg, Rick Huziak, John Percy, Brian Skiff, Ron Zissell to name a few. It would be nice to be immortalized this way, but Bobbie Vaile's story and contributions have raised the bar for inclusion in this exclusive club.
So what did Bobbie Vaile do? Well, first off, he is a she. Dr. Roberta Anne 'Bobbie' Vaile. She was an Australian astrophysicist and senior lecturer in physics on the faculty of the University of Western Sydney, Macarthur. She was also involved with Project Phoenix, a SETI experiment, and influential in establishing the SETI Australia Centre, created in 1995.
Dr. Bobbie Vaile has been described as "a computer-packing scientific evangelist who was convinced that even physics can be fun." In 1995 she was awarded the Unsung Hero of Australian Science Award in recognition of her enthusiastic and often unconventional efforts to make "hard" science easy.
Science communication was also a passion for Bobbie and she impressed everyone with her communication skills in print, radio and television.
Her work is particularly remarkable because, in 1989, at the age of 31, Dr. Vaile learned she had an inoperable brain tumor that affected the communications center of her brain. Bobbie Vaile finally succumbed to cancer in 1996, after a seven year battle.
Minor planet 6708, discovered in 1989 at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales was named Bobbievaile in her honor. The citation reads: "To many colleagues and students Bobbie was a uniquely understanding and close friend, and she remains an inspiration."
As it turns out, the asteroid named for her is also quite remarkable. Yesterday a group of astronomers announced results from photometry taken on Bobbievaile from April 16 to May 3 this year. Their observations reveal that Bobbievaile is in fact a binary asteroid with a period of 24.7 hours. The primary, the largest of the two components, has a rotational period of 8.2 hours. From the lightcurve of the primary, which only has an amplitude of 0.08 magnitudes, they are pretty sure the primary is roughly spherical in shape.
They were also able to observe mutual eclipses and occulations which has helped to determine the ratio of the mean diameters of the two space rocks. They find the primary is roughly twice the size of the secondary. This they were able to determine by timing eclipses with depths 0.31 magnitudes.
A pretty remarkable asteroid named after a very remarkable woman.