Update / June 2014: The article, From Space to School, in the June 2014 issue (print only) of Sky & Telescope magazine provides an update to this story.
It’s official! The Minor Planet Center announced on November 2, 2012 that the Main Belt asteroid discovered by Texas Regional Collaboratives Teacher, Denise Rothrock, has been officially named MadisonvilleHigh. Denise who teaches physics and astronomy at Madisonville High School in Madisonville, Texas discovered the asteroid while teaching middle school.
In 2008 Denise attended the Summer Astronomy Institute in Berkeley, which was funded by the TRC. Denise was one of eighteen teachers who spent three weeks studying how to teach astronomy and conduct hands-on activities with their students.
After the Institute, Denise returned to Texas and enrolled her middle school students in the asteroid search campaign of the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (the IASC, pronounced “Isaac”), which was one of the hands-on activities presented at the Summer Institute in Berkeley. It was in one of those campaigns in late 2008 that Denise and her students discovered a Main Belt asteroid.
Using TRC funding, Region 14 sent Denise to the Hands-On Universe annual meeting at the Univesrity of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory, located in Williams Bay, Wisconsin in 2009. She has participated in that meeting ever since, giving talks on her astronomy work with students.
In the meantime, she has moved to Madisonville High School and started an astronomy program as a result of the TRC Summer Astronomy Institute. She has been an active IASC volunteer, doing a number of workshops including the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST), Texas Academy of Science, and the 2011 TRC Astronomy Professional Development Academy, Hands on Astronomy for Teachers and Students, at Brookhaven College.
The proposal to name the asteroid went through a special committee of the International Astronomical Union. The naming process itself often lasts two to four months. The formal announcement was made on November 2, 2012.
Congratulations to Denise, her students, and all the astronomers who taught her and encouraged her through this process.
To learn more, check out Asteroid Discovered by Madisonville Teacher Named for High School on the TAMU College of Science website.