SALT LAKE CITY – Two Utah scientists who discovered an undocumented asteroid outside the orbit of Mars have won approval to name it for Elko, a Nevada town.
Patrick Wiggins and Holly Phaneuf were given the right to name it, and Wiggins chose the town where he was born.
"It was discovered quite by accident," said Wiggins, NASA's solar system ambassador to Utah and northeastern Nevada.
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The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center in France quickly confirmed the discovery and earlier this year gave it a designation as the 80,180th numbered asteroid.
Wiggins earlier had submitted Holly Phaneuf's name, but the IAU refused, saying asteroids cannot be named for their discoverers. In August, it approved the new name — Elko, the Deseret Morning News reported.
Wiggins cited several reasons for naming the asteroid after the town founded in the 19th century, including the annual National Cowboy Festival and National Basque Festival.
It takes Elko about 41 months to orbit the sun and is estimated to be 1 to 3 kilometers in diameter, Wiggins said. He said Elko's orbit remains outside the orbit of Mars and never comes close to Earth.