How a lonely quasi-moon got a rather strange name

How a lonely quasi-moon got a rather strange name

There’s a lot of craziness going on in the universe. A planetoid named James Bond (9007), with or without license to kill. Another (38086) that astronomers have named Beowulf, after the hero of the Old English epic. Of course, among all the hustle and bustle, an Odysseus (1149) also travels through the universe on his way home. The Greek-named erratic rock must be careful because it cannot turn to fellow asteroid Mr. for travel advice. Spock (2309): who is not named after the alien commander from the TV series Star Trek but after astronomer James B. Gibson’s cat. Fortunately, there are also some laughs along the way, with the asteroids Tom Hanks (12818) and Monty Python (13681).

Yes, astronomers have to deal with all these new entities that are being discovered and mapped. Just giving a number is so boring. Couldn’t that be more imaginative? And so since 2017 there has also been an interstellar object with the Hawaiian name Oumuamua, which means ‘explorer’ or ‘messenger’. Dutch names are also present. This is how Aletta Jacobs, the first university graduate Dutch female doctor, received her own asteroid: (69231).

But an alleged ‘moon’ of the planet Venus with the evocative but incomprehensible name Zoozve?

Yet it is now there, officially baptized at the beginning of February. And this was due to a misunderstanding when putting a 2-year-old human child to bed. Science historian Latif Nasser, host of the science podcast Radio lab, was putting his son to bed last year when he finally took a good look at the poster of the universe above the child’s bed. To his horror he saw a ‘moon’ of Venus there with the name Zoozve? Had he missed something? Venus has no moons.

Poster Alex Foster

Explanation at your fingertips

Historians of science take things seriously, so Nasser set his sights high. He contacted NASA. Indeed, he was told, Venus has no moons and no one there had heard of an asteroid Zoozve. In the meantime, the explanation was within reach. Or rather, it hung on the wall above his son’s bed. Nasser was called back by an acquaintance from NASA, who had come across a light. He must have seen it wrong in the dim light, there was no ‘Zoozve’ on that poster but ‘2002VE’. The automatically generated number once given to a quasi-moon around Venus. Quasi-moons are objects that orbit more than one planet (Earth also has a few, such as the 2023 FW13 discovered last year). It remained unclear – even the artist of the poster who tracked Nasser down did not know – why this lonely quasi-moon was shown on the poster, and many others were not.

Why not reward this happiness? Radiolab started a petition to rename the asteroid (complete: 2002VE86) Zoozve. The green light came from the International Astronomical Union, which is responsible for naming astronomical objects.

The asteroid was ‘accidentally’ given a name that appeals more to the imagination. Nasser’s son will not have lost any sleep over it.