Asteroid named in honor of Dufault

The week after Michele Dufault, a Saybrook College senior and physics and astronomy major, died in a tragic laboratory accident last April, a group of faculty and students who knew her best met to discuss ways to preserve her memory. Now they have ensured she will be remembered forever by having an asteroid named in her honor.

Asteroid 15338 will now be known as “15338 Dufault” and has been recorded in the July 15 edition of “Minor Planet Circulars,” the official publication of minor bodies in the solar system produced by the International Astronomical Union.

Meg Urry, chair of the Department of Physics who was Dufault’s research advisor, wrote the citation, which reads:

Named in honor of Michele Dufault (1988-2011), an outstanding astronomy and physics student at Yale College who died in an accident just weeks before graduation. Michele was passionate about science and about encouraging others, especially young women, to pursue science careers.

“15338 Dufault is up there in the sky, circling the Sun roughly midway between Mars and Jupiter,” Urry says. “It’s a metaphor for how Michele seems to have a constant presence, because of our memories and how she has affected every one of us.”

The asteroid, which was discovered in 1994 at the Kitt Peak observatory in Arizona, is three to six miles across and belongs to a group of asteroids that can be named in honor of people (other minor bodies are named only after mythological figures).

The faculty and student group behind the asteroid naming is also in the process of raising money for a summer fellowship, in addition to the scholarship created by the university in her memory.

You can see the orbit of 15338 Dufault on NASA’s website for asteroid orbits here: http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=15338%20Dufault;orb=1;cov=0;log=0;cad=0#orb

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