A digital image of the orbit of Asteroid 179223 Tonytyson
The orbit of Asteroid 179223 Tonytyson. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA)

Asteroid Named for UC Davis Astronomer Tony Tyson

Astronomer Tony Tyson is the second professor in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science to join an out-of-this-world club. 

Asteroid 179223 was officially named Tonytyson in February in honor of Tyson’s vision and leadership in building the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. Scheduled to start full science observations in 2024, the Rubin Observatory will image the entire visible night sky every three nights for 10 years.

Astronomer Tony Tyson wearing a dark gray jacket in front of a blurred background.
Tony Tyson

Tyson, Distinguished Professor of Physics, said he was “surprised, gratified and amused” to learn he had a namesake asteroid. “My scientific interests are in dark matter and cosmology,” he said. However, as director of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project (now the Rubin Observatory), Tyson testified before Congress in 2007 on the telescope’s ability to find Earth-threatening asteroids. 

Ranked as the nation’s highest priority for ground-based astronomical facilities in 2010, the Rubin Observatory’s decadal survey will find millions of comets and asteroids, determine their orbits and provide early warning of potential threats, Tyson said. The survey will also inventory the solar system and Milky Way; detect supernovas, gamma-ray bursts and other ephemeral objects; map dark matter throughout the universe; provide insights into dark energy; and likely discover the unexpected.

About the asteroid 

Asteroid 179223 Tonytyson, which is in a circular orbit beyond Mars, presents no danger to Earth, Tyson said. The asteroid was discovered in 2001 by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, but wasn’t officially named until this year. From its color it appears carbon-rich (or carbonaceous), and relatively large, at about four kilometers (2.5 miles) wide.

The announcement was made Feb. 8, 2022, by the International Astronomical Union Working Group for Small Bodies Nomenclature, which governs the naming process. Only about 10% (around 23,000) of all identified asteroids have been named.

Preceding Tyson in this exclusive club was William Jackson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry. Jackson’s research on chemical reactions in asteroids and comets provided fundamental information about our universe. In 1996, The Planetary Society named Asteroid 4322 Billjackson in his honor.

About Tony Tyson

Tyson joined the UC Davis Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2004 following a 35-year career at Bell Laboratories. His research centers on experimental physics and cosmology, and includes development of new instrumentation and algorithms aimed at unraveling the nature of dark energy and dark matter. He is also chief scientist for the Rubin Observatory.

While at Bell Labs, he applied CCDs (charge-coupled devices) to astronomy, discovering the faint blue galaxies. Leveraging this backdrop of billions of galaxies, he pioneered weak gravitational lensing, a technique for imaging foreground dark matter concentrations via their gravitational lens distortions of the distant galaxies. 

Tyson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1997.

Becky Oskin, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science

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