“I got a rock!” So joked Dr. Stefanie Milam ’02 upon learning that she would now share her name with asteroid 40706 (1999 RO240). The space rock is now christened asteroid 40706 Milam, and a full view of its orbital pattern can be seen here.
“This asteroid was initially discovered on Sept. 11, 1999, my 18th birthday,” said Dr. Milam, a bit more seriously. “That was also during my first semester at KWU! I’m honored to be the first KWU alum to achieve this unique honor.”
While the earliest recorded asteroids were named for mythological figures, the Minor Planet Center – an organization run at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Massachusetts – now controls the naming process. This group is responsible for charting and collecting data regarding various asteroids, as well as accepting proposals for naming. That process can take many months, but the finalization of the naming process was revealed in the June 11 edition of the International Astronomical Union’s WG Small Bodies Nomenclature bulletin.
Dr. Milam is a deputy project scientist at the Astrochemistry Laboratory in the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. She is an expert in rotational spectroscopy, observations, and laboratory modeling of astrochemistry and molecular astrophysics of the interstellar medium, evolved stars, star formation regions, and comets with an emphasis on isotopic fractionation and astrobiology of primitive materials. Among her many efforts, Dr. Milam maintains a renowned observational program with radio telescopes around the world, and with space-based observatories, to routinely observe comets as part of an international collaboration. She was the 2019 KWU Commencement speaker.
For more information on Dr. Milam, please visit this link: https://science.gsfc.nasa.gov/sed/bio/stefanie.n.milam.