Jamestown native has asteroid with her name on it
Sherry Fieber-Beyer has had an asteroid named after her by the International Astronomical Union, the scientific body that officially names objects in the night sky.
Fieber-Beyer, who was born and raised in Jamestown, said she learned about the honor as she was traveling to a conference. She had received an email from the IAU.
Terry O’Meara, her mother, said she found out about her daughter being honored via a posting on the social network site Facebook.
“I’m so proud of her,” O’Meara said. “I’ve always known she had the brains to do something spectacular.”
Gareth V. Williams, associate director of the IAU’s Minor Planet Center, said Fieber-Beyer was one of a few dozen scientists who were honored by having an asteroid, comet or meteor named after them by IAU at a meeting recently in Helsinki, Finland.
“The assignment of names of scientists at meetings is a tradition,” Williams said.
Fieber-Beyer is a post-doctoral research scientist and director of undergraduate studies for the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences – Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota. She has a doctorate in earth system science and policy from UND. Fieber-Beyer also has a Master of Science in physics from UND and a Bachelor of Science with concentrations in physics and astronomy from Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Most of her time is spent studying asteroids in the asteroid belt that exist between Mars and Jupiter and near-Earth asteroids. Her asteroid, 14825 Fieber-Beyer, was discovered in 1985 at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.
Fieber-Beyer said she is honored that the IAU chose to name an asteroid after her. She said she is even more excited because the asteroid is located near an area in the asteroid belt called the 3 to 1 Kirkwood Gap. Fieber-Beyer said the Kirkwood Gap doesn’t have a lot of asteroids because of its location between Mars and Jupiter. Her study of asteroids centers on asteroids that come out of the Kirkwood Gap.
“My asteroid is 4 kilometers wide,” she said. The asteroid is currently 2.5 astronomical units — 373,994,677.5 kilometers — away from Earth. Fieber-Beyer said the asteroid will be close enough to Earth in 2017, and she will be able to study it.
Fieber-Beyer has had academic papers published throughout her 10-year career. Part of her recent work was successfully tracking an asteroid from its near-Earth trajectory back to its area of origin. Fieber-Beyer said in her work she gets to use the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
By using photometry, which measures the brightness of an object in the night sky, and the infrared telescope, Fieber-Beyer said she can determine the mineralogy of an asteroid. This also helps determine where the asteroid may have originated.
“The work we do tells us a lot about how the solar system formed and how it evolved,” she said.
Fieber-Beyer spent most of her childhood and teen years in Jamestown.
“I went to Gussner and Roosevelt (elementary schools), but I graduated from West Fargo High School,” she said.
She was a liberal arts major at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She took an astronomy class and found she enjoyed the subject.
Fieber-Beyer said the professor teaching the astronomy class noticed her interest in it and asked her if she was any good at math.
“I didn’t know, so we asked my math professor, who said I was very good at math, and then I switched my major,” she said.
Fieber-Beyer said having an asteroid named after her is another “amazing” highlight to her career in astronomy. She said she enjoys her job.
“It doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “I wake up and I’m happy to come to my office to do my research. It’s like doing my hobby and getting paid for it.”
Outside of work Fieber-Beyer is raising two sons, Caius, 4, and Lestat, 11.
Sun reporter Chris Olson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org