Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai now not just a star, but an asteroid

10 Apr 2015

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Malala street art image via Boring Lovechild/Flickr

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No longer just an inspiration for people all around the world, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has been bestowed the honour of having a distant asteroid named after her.

Discovered by Dr Amy Mainzer, an astronomer from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Asteroid 316201 exists in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which orbits the sun every five-and-a-half years and, according to Dr Mainzer, the decision to name it after Malala was an easy one.

"It is a great honour to be able to name an asteroid after Malala,” said Dr Mainzer in a blog post on the Malala Fund Blog. “My postdoctoral fellow Dr Carrie Nugent brought to my attention the fact that, although many asteroids have been named, very few have been named to honour the contributions of women (and particularly women of colour).”

Malala made headlines across the world last October after becoming the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, having championed girls’ education since the age of 11, when the Taliban overran her hometown of Mingora, Pakistan, and threatened to destroy the schools.

Malala-asteroid

Image of Asteroid Malala via Dr Amy Mainzer/Malala Fund Blog

A symbol for all

Three years ago, Malala was confronted by one of these Taliban gunmen and shot in the head, but, thanks to the help of surgeons in the UK, she pulled through to continue her efforts, despite threats to her life.

Detailing what the Malala asteroid is like, Dr Mainzer said that, from her readings, it is approximately 4km in diameter and its surface is extremely dark and it was discovered with the help of the NEOWISE telescope.

In a parting message, Dr Mainzer also said that, much like Malala, it’s important for everyone, especially young girls, to follow their dreams, regardless of what they are told they can and cannot do.

“My advice to young girls is that science and engineering are for everyone! We desperately need the brainpower of all smart people to solve some of humanity's most difficult problems, and we can't afford to reject half the population's. Plus, it is a wonderful feeling to learn about the world around you – it's a job you will fall in love with each day.”

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Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com