Professor Jonti Horner and Dr Tim Holt recognised by International Astronomical Union
Rather than having their name up in lights, two University of Southern Queensland researchers have instead made a name for themselves amongst the stars. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has named a pair of asteroids after experts Professor Jonti Horner and Dr Tim Holt, in recognition of their contribution to space research.
Located around 200 million kilometres from Earth, the asteroid (32520) Jontihorner is more reflective than usual, which is suggestive of something unusual – perhaps an icy surface, or exposed metal terrain. In contrast, the asteroid (32519) Timholt is a main belt asteroid found between the orbit of Jupiter and Mars.
Nominated for the honour by colleagues, Professor Horner and Dr Holt were both thrilled by the news. “The more I think about it, the more lovely it is,” Prof Horner said. “Not only is it a professional recognition, but it’s also a type of permanence – the naming of an object that will outlast me.”
“It gives me a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling that people have appreciated the work that I’ve done,” Dr Holt said. “It’s also great to be nominated alongside Jonti, who was my PhD supervisor.”
With a long and distinguished career in space research, Professor Horner has studied his fair share of asteroids. These include the Jovian and Neptunian Trojans, a set of asteroids out near Jupiter and Neptune, which provide clues on the formation and evolution of the Solar system.
“Most of my early research was looking at small objects in the Solar system moving on unstable orbits,” Professor Horner said. “The Jupiter and Neptune trojans are a different type of asteroid to the (32520) Jontihorner.”
“We know relatively little about (32520) Jontihorner – it would be great to do more work on it. With the Vera Rubin observatory coming online in the next year or two, we’re going to find 10 to 100 times more objects out in space and hopefully we will have more observational data to go on.”
Like Professor Horner, Dr Holt also has specialised knowledge of Trojan asteroids. Having studied palaeontology, Dr Holt spent time unearthing the fossils of dinosaurs, fish and crocodiles in Western Queensland, before applying his skills in a galactic setting.
For his PhD, Dr Holt used a paleontological technique known as cladistics to categorise the evolutionary relationships of the Jovian Trojans. “I ran simulations on these asteroids to study how they would behave over the next four and a half billion years and how they were related to one another,” Dr Holt said.
“Looking for patterns in their relationships helps to teach us about their history. From what we can tell, the asteroid (32519) Timholt is part of a dynamical family, which means it was created during a collision in the past. I’m excited to figure out how our asteroids fit into the story of the Solar system.”