Asteroid Fredschaaf

My dear friend Fred has been honored by having an asteroid named for him: 7065 Fredschaaf.

Here is its path in the sky in the first three months of this year.  It is far too faint to be seen by the naked eye (around magnitude 18), a 17-kilometer-wide Main Belt asteroid, about 2,7 AU (astronomical units) from the Sun, somewhat nearer in than, and traveling now somewhat ahead of, Ceres.  It is high in the evening sky, will pass behind the Sun on July 20.  It was at opposition on 2016 Nov. 26 and won’t be again till 2018 March 5.

It was discovered 1992 August 2, by Henry Holt at the Palomar Observatory, and had the preliminary designation 1992 PU2.  Pre-discovery images of it were found back to 1949, helping to fix its orbit.  On 2015 Oct. 1 it occulted a 10th-magnitude star in Aquarius, as seeable from eastern Europe and eastern Africa.

I’ve met Fred only twice: in 1985, when he was my guest in South Carolina so that we could plan our joint book about Halley’s Comet; and a decade later, when I was on my way to somewhere else and explored along lonely roads in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey to find Fred in the little house where he lives with his wife Mamie, and where he has always lived.

But he has been my most prolific friend by correspondence – more than three hundred thousand words of it (mostly Fred’s words), and that’s only since mail yielded to email in the new century.

Obviously he is not someone who can be summarized briefly, and I will say only, and hope he doesn’t mind my saying, that he has had such an incessant struggle against difficulties, of health and more, that it is amazing he has been able to keep his mind on his work.

He got in touch with me after reading my Astronomical Calendar 1976.  For the Astronomical Calendars of 1989 to 2013, he contributed “Observers’ Highlights” on the monthly pages, and one- or two-page sections on deep-sky sights and on light pollution.  He also contributed ideas, and I at times felt he was the spirit of the Astronomical Calendar.  I called him the Great Appreciator.

He started in 1976 writing his weekly column in the Atlantic City Press.  He has published these books (some comtaining illustrations by me):

Wonders of the Sky: Observing Rainbows, Comets, Eclipses, the Stars and Other Phenomena (1983)
The Starry Room: Naked Eye Astronomy in the Intimate Universe (1988)
Seeing the Sky: 100 Projects, Activities and Explorations in Astronomy (1990, new edition 2012)
Seeing The Solar System: Telescopic Projects, Activities and Explorations in Astronomy (1991)
Seeing The Deep Sky: Telescopic Astronomy Projects Beyond the Solar System (1992)
The Amateur Astronomer; Explorations and Investigations (1994)
Comet of the Century: from Halley to Hale-Bopp (1997)
40 Nights to Knowing the Sky: A Night-by-Night Sky-Watching Primer (1998)
Planetology: Comparing Other Worlds to Our Own (1999)
A Year of the Stars: A Month-by-Month Journey of Skywatching (2003)
The 50 Best Sights in Astronomy, and How to See Them: Observing Eclipses, Bright Comets, Meteor Showers … (2007)
The Brightest Stars: Discovering the Universe Through the Sky’s Most Brilliant Stars (2008)

I know that he is working on a book about the Christmas star; and I keep hoping he will compile one on our joint idea of the Heavens by Hours.

To Sky & Telescope, Fred contributed some observations and letters from 1976 onward.  He was taken on as a columnist (he’s now one of the few called “Contributing Editor”) in January 1993, when his column “Stars and Planets” began.  There have been changes of title and format, and now “Under the Stars”, a free essay, is followed by a systematic “Sun, Moon & Planets”.  And he has had intermittent columns on light pollution, “The Eye and I” (naked-eye observing), and “The Near Sky” (atmospheric phenomena).

From, I think, 2006 he has taught classes at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.

The struggle against light pollution has been an issue for Fred from very early.  He is a vigorous supporter of IDA, the International Dark-Sky Association.  He drafted for the New Jersey legislature a bill that resulted in a state commission to study the problem, and he served on this commission, which produced a list of twelve recommendations.

Fred is a gentle soul.  The tone of his writing is that he seems to be talking to you, the reader, and admonishing you, in a perhaps somewhat teacherly way, to observe and to wonder at what you observe, and to feed your impressions back to him.

After our co-authorship experience with Mankind’s Comet, I felt rather bad that I, having the power, ruthlessly compressed much of his prose in the way I tend to compress my own.  Afterwards with his Astronomical Calendar contributions I gradually ceased compressing at all – perhaps his experience with other editors was moving him toward conciseness – and instead I thanked him for the most poetic of his phrases.  We had a mutual-admiration club.

I learned of asteroid Fredschaaf back on December 1.  Kelly Beatty of Sky & Telescope had made the suggestion; Gareth Williams of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., which decides these things for the International Astronomical Union, had made it official, in Minor Planet Center Circular 102254; Peter Tyson, Sky & Telescope‘s editor, sent the news to Fred with an email titled “Your eponymous rock in space”; Fred forwarded this to me and others.

I would have written about it earlier, but felt I needed to get from Fred a correct list of the titles and dates of his publications.  He was unwontedly silent, which turned out to be because he was suffering from a viral sickness on top of his other troubles, so I have put the information together myself; I found I have eight of his twelve books, and scraped the others from Amazon, hoping their dates are correct.

Other asteroids named for Sky & Telescope and its prominent folk are 2157 Ashbrook, 3031 Houston, 3243 Skytel, 3706 Sinnott, 3841 Dicicco, 3819 Robinson, 4726 Federer, 7116 Mentall, 7228 MacGillivray, 9983 Rickfienberg, 10373 Macrobert, and 2925 Beatty.  Depending on how long you’ve been reading the magazine, you’ll know the missing parts of their names.

And the other named for one of my former contributors is 4276 Clifford.  Clifford Cunningham, another independent scholar, has published several tomes on the history of asteroids, but for the Astronomical Calendar he wrote an annual chronology of “Space Exploration.”


6 thoughts on “Asteroid Fredschaaf”

  1. I greatly enjoy Fred’s columns in Sky and Telescope, and I reread each month’s chapter of “A Year of the Stars” each month. Asteroid Fredschaaf is a fitting tribute.

  2. Very well deserved of Mr. Schaaf, whose work in S&T I have thoroughly enjoyed. If there isn’t also one named after you, Mr. Ottewell, there ought to be.

    1. Interesting thought. I wondered if there wasn’t one already. According to the IAU website for minor planet names, the asteroids with names beginning with the character string “Guy” are as follows:
      (325558) Guyane
      (317715) Guydetienne
      (3697) Guyhurst
      (73342) Guyunusa
      (23758) Guyuzhou

      Only one begins with “Otte”:
      (670) Ottegebe

      I did not see any asteroid named “Astrocal” or something along the lines of “Skytel”, which I think would be almost as appropriate as “Guyottewell”. Nor did I find a link on the IAU page to “submit a name proposal”. Perhaps an internet petition on would be in order LOL! Honoring Guy or someone such as Robert Burnham (of Celestial Handbook fame) would make more sense than commemorating someone who as far as I know has no connection to astronomy such as Freddie Mercury ((17473) Freddiemercury) in my opinion.

    2. Thanks, but in that unlikely event I think I would decline, as I would any of the “gongs” or absurd titles that the British bestow on an invidiously selected few.

  3. Wow,this is really fantastic !.I started corresponding with Fred in the early seventies (yes,pen, paper ,stamps and all that-as unbelievable as all that seems now ) after following his articles in The Atlantic City Press newspaper.You could not help but feel an immediate rapport with him within a few letters.Kind,understanding,very knowledgeable and inspirational would be words too small to describe Fred.Unfortunedly,like so many other things,life gets in the way-jobs,family and the general stresses of life and sadly after awhile we lost touch.I have purchased and read all of his books since then but that’s the closest we have come together since .But anyhow,Bravo,Fred -well done.-Cum aspera ad astra !.Sam in Philly

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