names, and in particular Near Earth Asteroids' names, are very
strange and sometimes it is difficult to understand how they are
given. If Apollo or Zeus are
names that can easily be imagined as belonging to an asteroid,
who could possibly guess that Bach or Zappa
or even 2000 QW7 are space rocks as well ?
Nevertheless, there is a precise scientific procedure for this naming method that allows scientists to catalog in an efficient way the many new asteroids that each month are added to the 12,000 already known. To oversee this complicated process, the work of a special committee, called the International Astronomical Union's Small Bodies Names, is needed.
First name: asteroid 2000QW7
soon as it is discovered a new NEO gets a temporary name that can
sound, taking the already cited example, as 2000 QW7.
Let's explain how this name is given. The first part of the name is simple, since it identifies the year of the asteroid's discovery (in this case 2000). The "QW7" needs some more explanation. For what concerns the letter "Q" , each half-month of the year is identified with a letter of the alphabet, A corresponding for example to the period January 1st-15th, B to the period of January 16th-31st, and so on ( the letter "I" is omitted in this system). In this case, "Q" is the second half of the month of August. The second and third characters "W7" represent an easy way of counting the number of asteroids found during the 2nd half of August 2000: each object discovered in this period is designed by a letter going from A to Z (always omitting the letter "I" ). If more then 25 asteroids are found in the half month considered, the notations goes back to the A, adding to the letter an extra number. In conclusion, 2000 QW7 is simply the 197th asteroid found in the second half of August 2000.
Waiting for more mythological names
How are the definitive names (such as Apollo or Amor) of such objects decided? In most cases, the discoverer makes a suggestion, giving also a brief explanation of the name. This suggestion must be approved by an eleven-person committee. Normally, confusing pronunciation or spellings are rejected. Apart from this, very original names have been chosen in the past: from Bach to Frank Zappa. If 10 years have passed since the NEO discovery without any proposal for its name, anybody can propose a name. Waiting for its new mythological name, the asteroid will still be called 2000QW7.