A piece of outer
space named for George Takei is in kind of a rough
neighborhood for somebody who steers a starship: an asteroid
between Mars and Jupiter has been renamed 7307 Takei in
honor of the actor, best known for his role as Hikaru
Sulu in the original Star Trek series and
''I am now a
heavenly body,'' Takei, 70, said Tuesday, laughing. ''I
found out about it yesterday. ... I was blown away. It came
out of the clear, blue sky -- just like an asteroid.''
rock, discovered by two Japanese astronomers in 1994, was
formerly known as 1994 GT9. It joins the 4659 Roddenberry
(named for the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry) and
the 68410 Nichols (for costar Nichelle Nichols, who
played Lieutenant Uhura). Other main-belt asteroids
have been named for science fiction luminaries Robert
Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.
The renaming of
7307 Takei was approved by the International Astronomical
Union's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature. About 14,000
asteroid names have been approved by the panel, while
about 165,000 asteroids have been identified and
numbered, union spokesman Lars Lindberg Christensen said.
Unlike the myriad
Web sites that offer to sell naming rights to stars,
the IAU committee-approved names are actually used by
astronomers, said Tom Burbine, the Mount Holyoke
College astronomy professor who proposed the name
''This is the
name that will be used for all eternity,'' he said.
Burbine said he
suggested Takei's name in part out of appreciation for
his work with the Japanese American Citizens League and with
the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. Takei, a
spokesman for HRC's Coming Out Project, was cultural
affairs chairman of the JACL, and he was appointed to
the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission by President Clinton.
Takei has acted
on NBC's Heroes and appears regularly on Howard Stern's
satellite radio show.
committee's policies, whoever discovers an asteroid has 10
years in which to propose a name. After that, the panel
considers other suggestions, although it warns
would-be namers to avoid anything ''in questionable
taste'' and any names honoring political or military figures
sooner than 100 years after their deaths. (Samantha Gross,