Observatory Trustee Wants to Name Asteroid After Trayvon Martin

by Sterling Beard

A trustee of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, wants to name an asteroid after Trayvon Martin.

William Lowell Putnam III, a former television executive, says he was disgusted with the lack of “social fairness” shown to the Florida teenager, who was shot dead in Sanford, Fla. by George Zimmerman in February 2012.

“Inasmuch as I am the sole trustee of an institution which has some naming privileges, I want to do my share to see that this lad is remembered in an appropriate manner,” Putnam told the Arizona Daily Sun.

The asteroid in question was discovered on Oct. 2, 2000 and is currently designated 2000 TM61. The citation declares the asteroid named “in memory of Trayvon Martin (1995-2012), a student at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School in Miami, Florida. Unarmed, he was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, during an altercation with the neighborhood watch coordinator.”

After Zimmerman was indicted, Putnam had Edward Bowell, the director of the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object-Search, submit the name.

However, the name was rejected by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), an organization which, along with the International Astronomical Union (IAU), chooses asteroid names. The MPC said the name was “premature,” but did not explain its decision any further. Gareth Williams, associate director of the MPC and secretary for the IAU’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, said that suggested names are not discussed prior to their approval but confirmed that there is no asteroid named Trayvon.

Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July. Putnam says he hopes that the name will no longer be seen as premature in light of the acquittal. 

Putnam’s family has long been involved in civil rights matters. His mother created a scholarship for black Roman Catholics—which Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel (N.Y.) used to pay for law school—and Putnam believes his family would be proud of his efforts.

“I think it’s my job. It’s my duty and my parents would be grateful,” Putnam said.

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