Out Of This World

As far as our district is concerned, something out of the ordinary happened this month. There’s a small asteroid that’s just been named “Rayleigh”.

Asteroids are rocky fragments left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. Most of these great lumps of space rubble – sometimes referred to by scientists as minor planets – can be found orbiting the Sun in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. This region in our solar system, called the Asteroid Belt , probably contains millions of asteroids. The biggest is over 900 kilometres across, the smallest will be less than one kilometre.

Most known asteroids only have numbers, but some have been given names, and on June 1st no. 22740 was named “Rayleigh

Rayleigh the asteroid is probably a bit bigger in size than Rayleigh the town . It lies between the planets Mars and Jupiter and takes 2137 days to orbit the sun. The photo below is of another asteroid called Eros, but Rayleigh probably looks something like this.

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Why is it called Rayleigh? It was named after the scientist John William Strutt, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1904 and became the 3rd Baron Rayleigh. He wasn’t made a lord for his scientific work, he simply came from an aristocratic family. In fact Lord Rayleigh is described on the Nobel website as “one of the very few members of higher nobility who won fame as an outstanding scientist.”

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And why was Lord Rayleigh called Lord Rayleigh? Because his grandmother was the first Baroness Rayleigh, and she lived elesewhere in Essex and chose the title “Rayleigh”, apparently because Rayleigh was a respectable place to be named after and that “Baroness Rayleigh” sounded good.

Lord Rayleigh made a couple of interesting discoveries, but we’ll write about that another time…