Out of this world honour for Open University as asteroid is named after it

An artists impression of the openuni asteroid
An artists impression of the openuni asteroid Credit: The Open University

The Open University has helped land a probe on Mars, is working alongside NASA's next manned mission to the moon and is even trying to unpick the secrets behind the formation of our Universe.

But now there's a more permanent connection to space as the Milton Keynes-based institution has had an asteroid named after it.

The OU is of course famous for distance learning, but even they would find the newly named heavenly body hard to reach. The Openuni is a staggering 126 million miles from earth.

The journey to become the solar system's most famous university started two years ago when professors Simon Green and Andrew Norton set out to name an asteroid - then known as simply number 69423 - as ‘Openuni’ in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the OU’s creation on 23 April 1969.

Now the Working Group for Small Body Nomenclature which part of the International Astronomical Union and is responsible for naming  everything from minor planets to comets, has has officially ratified the name.

Only one other UK university has had an asteroid named after it - that honour falls to the University of Aberdeen and its asteroid called Aberdonia.

Professor Simon Green: "If it was possible for an airliner to travel into space, it would take about a century to reach it." Credit: The Open University

Professor of Planetary and Space Science, Simon Green, said:

“Openuni is in the inner part of the asteroid “Main Belt”, which lies between Mars and Jupiter. Its average distance from the Sun is 235 million miles but because of the orbit it is in, this asteroid will get no closer than 126 million miles from Earth.”

Andrew Norton, Professor of Astrophysics Education, said