‘Brazilian’ asteroids, Saci and Curupira parade through the Solar System – 02/11/2024 – Sideral Messenger

‘Brazilian’ asteroids, Saci and Curupira parade through the Solar System – 02/11/2024 – Sideral Messenger


News with a folkloric-carnival flavor: the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the body responsible for the official nomenclature of celestial objects, vetoed the Brazilian initiative to name an asteroid Headless Mule. But it freed Saci and Curupira to parade freely through the Solar System, becoming the first near-Earth asteroids discovered in Brazil to gain their own name.

The responsibility fell to Cristóvão Jacques’ group, which coordinates the Sonear amateur observatory. Originally installed in Oliveira (MG) and today in Caeté, close to Belo Horizonte, it became known for the prolific discovery of asteroids classified as NEOs (Near Earth Objects, or objects close to the Earth).

The three names were submitted by Jacques to the IAU in July last year, but their discovery dates back to 2014 for two of them and 2016 for the third (which now ended up becoming Saci). Why the delay? “We did not have access to the system, which was only granted last year, and there is the issue that NEO takes time to be numbered and its orbit confirmed. Most take more than four or five years, at least”, explains the researcher .

The name Mula-sem-cabea had been chosen by the public in a survey, promoted by Sonear staff in partnership with the UOL portal in 2016. With the result, Jacques submitted it to the IAU. But last Monday (5) the entity rejected the choice, based on the origin of the legend, which attributed to women who had sexual relations before marriage, especially with priests, the curse of transforming into the bizarre creature. The IAU’s anonymous reviewer noted, “I don’t know how I feel about a pro-celibacy asteroid. I don’t think the IAU wants to get involved in people’s personal lives.”

With that, there went the Headless Mule asteroid. Now, it’s up to Jacques to submit an alternative name. “It will be Caipora,” he says. In folklore of Tupi-Guarani origin, she is an indigenous woman with red hair seen as a protector of animals and the forest. This time it shouldn’t be a problem.

And why so much fixation with folklore? It is part of the IAU rules for naming near-Earth asteroids (defined as those whose point of their orbit closest to the Sun is at a distance of less than 1.3 astronomical units, with 1 AU being the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, about 150 million km). They have to bear names related to mythology. A recent change exempts those who have a perihelion (greater proximity to the Sun) above 1.15 AU from this rule, but for others the rule remains.

For the foreseeable future, neither Saci, Curupira or Caipora pose a danger of collision with Earth. The one that will come closest in the coming decades is Curupira, in 2042 (7.5 million km, just under 20 times further away than the Moon). Saci will make its closest approach in 2085 (24 million km), and Caipora, in 2130 (13.5 million km).

This column is published on Mondays in print, in Folha Corrida.

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