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Minor Planets Named After African Figures

Cyril V. Jackson was a famous astronomer who named many of his 72 discovered minor planets, including asteroids and comets, after cities, people, and tribes of Africa. 

Born on December 5, 1903, in Leeds, England, in 1911, when Jackson was eight, his family moved to South Africa.

In 1922, while enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand, his job was to find minor planets and comets and map the whole southern sky. In April 1929, he discovered his first minor planet, which he called Catriona. 

He discovered three comets, two of which can still be observed today, and 72 minor planets, including asteroids and comets.


Astronomer Cyril V. Jackson named seven minor planets after famous African figures. 

1. The main-belt asteroid 1246, named Chaka, was founded on July 23, 1932, in Johansaberg, South Africa. Asteroid 1246 is named for Shaka kaSenzangakhona, the famous king of the Zulu Kingdom from 1816 to 1828, who revolutionized warfare in Southern Africa.

2. 1467 Mashona is an outer main-belt asteroid discovered on July 30, 1938, by Cyril V. Jackson in Johansaberg, South Africa. The northern part of present-day Zimbabwe, particularly in the Mashonaland and Mashonaland Central provinces, is known for its significant gold deposits and is believed to be the location of King Solomon's gold mines.

3. Main-belt Asteroid 1367 Nongoma, discovered July 3, 1934, in Johansaberg, South Africa, is named for the capital city of the Kwa-Zulu homeland. CM Ndabababa is the incumbent Mayor of Nongoma Municipality, one of the five local municipalities in the Zululand District Municipality. The municipality comprises three traditional authorities: Mandlakazi, Usuthu, and Matheni.

4. 1196 Sheba is a Main-belt Asteroid discovered on May 21, 1931, by Cyril V. Jackson. The queen of Sheba was the queen of Egypt and Ethiopia. The queen is said to have embarked on a journey to meet King Solomon to test his wisdom. 

5. Main-belt Asteroid discovered on July 2, 1935, 1357 Khama is named after Khama III, who was chief of Bechuanaland, now Botswana, who allied himself with British colonizers and converted to Christianity in 1860.

6. 1505 Koranna was discovered on April 21, 1939, by Cyril V. Jackson in Johansaberg, South Africa. This main-belt asteroid is named after the Koranna tribe, a colonial name for a member of the Kora people described by J. Barrow in 1801 as a very formidable tribe of people.

7. 1506 Xosa, today spelled Xhosa, was discovered on May 15, 1939, by Cyril V. Jackson in Johansaberg, South Africa. This main-belt asteroid is named after the South African Xhosa tribe that traditionally makes ingceke sun-cream which is a mixture of water and clay to protect themselves from the burning rays of the sun and is used as skin ointment to treat rashes and eczema. 

astronomer Cyril V. Jackson
Cyril V. Jackson

Life of astronomer Cyril V. Jackson

During World War II in 1939, Cyril V. Jackson joined the Union Defence Force in North Africa and Italy. He served as Captain in the intelligence forces at Roberts Heights in Pretoria. After the war, he became the director of the Yale Observatory from 1945 to 1952, specifically the Yale-Columbia Southern Station. He worked at Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia from 1951 to 1963 but left briefly due to a dispute before eventually returning.

In his career, he worked in various positions, and his last job was from 1963 to 1966 as the Director of Yale-Columbia Southern Station in El Leoncito, Argentina. During the 1950s, before he retired, he purchased a farm called Hilltop in the Haenertsburg district, now known as Northern Province. He built a small observatory on top of a hill and retired there in 1966. Sadly, he passed away in February 1988 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Did you know?

2825 Crosby is a main belt asteroid discovered on September 19, 1938, by Cyril V. Jackson. It was named after American singer, radio personality, and film actor Harry Lillis Bing Crosby.


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