Japanese junior high school girl discovers asteroid
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Akiko Takahashi, who often looks up into the night sky with her father, has recently been recognized as one of the first female junior high school students in Japan to discover an asteroid.
"I never thought it would actually be an asteroid," she said in a recent interview of her discovery in 2009. "I'm so happy." Takahashi is now 16 and in her sophomore year at senior high school in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Takahashi, then in her first year at junior high school, made the discovery along with Sakura Morishita, then a junior high school sophomore, and Akiko Tanaka, a first-year student at a senior high school at that time.
They had to wait until this July, however, before the International Astronomical Union listed the object as a new astral body.
The asteroid, which is about 2.9 kilometers in diameter, completes an orbit in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter every five years and eight months. It is invisible to the naked eye and unlikely to pose any threat to Earth.
Discovering an asteroid takes time and patience. An observer needs to take photographs of the same part of the sky every 10 minutes with a telescope and compare the images on a computer to find if any of the star dots is moving.
In November 2009, Takahashi and the two girls found the asteroid in the dim light of dawn during a children's event in Okayama Prefecture organized by the Japan Spaceguard Association, which monitors potentially dangerous asteroids.
"We were observing the sky randomly through a telescope as we never thought we would be able to find any, but we actually found one that looked like an asteroid," Takahashi said.
Noritsugu Takahashi, director of the association who is also Akiko's father, said, "Children are better (than adults) at locating moving objects. I suppose they must have good dynamic visual acuity."
The teenagers have been granted the right to name the asteroid within the next decade.
"We have been talking to each other by text message and saying we should take time before making a decision as it is an important thing," she said.
Since she was 5, Takahashi has followed her father, a researcher into solar eclipses, to observe the phenomenon around the world.
"My father took me to many different places, but the most memorable observation for me was the patterns of the moon surface we saw through a telescope at our home," she said.
Takahashi currently belongs to the tennis and art clubs at senior high school. She said her dream is to study planets at university.
"There are so many things in the universe that have yet to be fully understood," she said.
October 13, 2013(Mainichi Japan)