There are asteroids named for Mr. Spock, Sophocles, Lady Godiva, Dante, Shakespeare and about 3,500 other people and places. And as of yesterday, there are four more named for astronomers who have worked in this area.
The asteroids in question are minor planets orbiting the Sun in a band between Mars and Jupiter. A Cambridge, Mass.-based professional group, the International Astronomical Union, names the new ones, which are discovered virtually every day.
Each month, on the date the moon becomes full -- rendering the sky too bright to do much but paper work -- the union releases its latest batch of names. In June, 35 were given names, officials said. Since the band of asteroids was discovered in 1800, as many as 57 of the minor planets have been found in a month. Their orbits have to be confirmed before names are bestowed.
Among those honored yesterday when new names were affixed were Michael F. A'Hearn, acting director of the astronomy department at the University of Maryland, and David W. Dunham, senior scientist at Computer Sciences Corp. in Silver Spring. Also honored were were Philip Angerhofer of the Naval Observatory, who died in March, and Samuel Alfred Mitchell of the University of Virginia, who died in 1960.
Another asteroid was named Mason-Dixon, after the men who surveyed the line dividing Maryland and Pennsylvania.
International Astronomical Union official Brian G. Marsden, director of the Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institution, said it is unusual for one geographical area to supply as many asteroid names as this region did in June.
Minor planets Anacostia, Virginia and Washingtonia were discovered during the early part of this century, and until yesterday they were among the few asteroids representing this region.
Minor planet Angerhofer was named in memory of a 35-year-old radio astronomer who lived in Beltsville. Working with the Naval Observatory, he monitored the Earth's rotation by tracking distant quasars -- starlike objects that emit light, radio waves or both -- for navigational and targeting purposes.
Mitchell was among the first astronomers to film a solar eclipse successfully, in 1905. He was director of the Leander McCormick Observatory at the University of Virginia for 32 years. During his career he traveled more than 90,000 miles to film eclipses. He ended up with 18 minutes' worth.
The asteroid named for him, minor planet Samitchell, was discovered in 1962 at Indiana University but was officially designated yesterday after its orbit was finally confirmed.
A'Hearn, noted for his comet studies, has written about their spectrophotometry and emissions. Minor planet A'Hearn was discovered in 1982.
Computer Sciences Corp. astronomer Dunham computes trajectories, including that of the International Sun Earth Explorer-3 spacecraft. Last September, the spacecraft intercepted the tail of the Giacobini-Zinner comet, making it the first satellite to make contact with a comet. Minor planet Dunham was discovered in August 1981.
Dunham is working on another trajectory design for the International Solar-Terrestrial Physics program, which will be launched in the early 1990s.
Surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were astronomers first. In the mid-18th century, they traveled to the Cape of Good Hope to study the transit of Venus across the Sun. Mason and Dixon made the first of five such observations made, Marsden said. Minor planet Mason-Dixon was discovered in 1982.
Minor planets A'Hearn, Angerhofer, Dunham and Mason-Dixon were all discovered by Edward Bowell at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz.