Monday, May 25, 2015

A main-belt asteroid named after forest-canopy scientist Margaret D. Lowman

A Mont-Blanc-size main-belt asteroid, orbiting near Jupiter and discovered by astronomer couple Carolyn S. and Eugene M. Shoemaker at Palomar in 1988, is named after American canopy ecologist Margaret D. Lowman: 10739 Lowman (1988 JB1) [1,2].

The orbit of botanist Margaret Lowman (b. 1953, New York)—known as Canopy Meg—includes Australia, Africa, Peru, Panama, Belize and Florida, where she explores and studies what is happening at the tops of trees [3]. As a pioneer of the science of canopy ecology, Meg is also nicknamed the “real-life Lorax” by National Geographic and “Einstein of the treetops” by Wall Street Journal [4].

Richard Preston writes in his canopy-guided nonfiction page turner The Wild Trees [3]:

In 1978, Margaret D. Lowman, a young American graduate student in botany at the University of Sydney, in Australia, decided to write her dissertation on treetops. She had been anxious about choosing a topic, and she thought that at least nobody had tried this one. Lowman wanted to climb the trees, but she had no idea how to do that. She joined a caving club in Sydney, and the other members taught her how to climb a rope using Jumar ascenders. Lowman sewed a climbing harness for herself made out of seat-belt straps, and welded some pieces of iron together to make a slingshot. She then went into a forest near Sydney and used the slingshot to shoot a fishing line over the branch of a tree, after which she attached a thin nylon cord to the fishing line and dragged the cord over the branch. Then she attached a rope to the nylon cord and pulled it over. Lowman began making solo ascents into the rain-forest canopy of eastern Australia. “When I first started out climbing trees, I had no idea that they held fifty percent of the life on the planet,” Lowman said to me. “We had no clue that the forest canopy is this amazing hot spot for biodiversity.” 
[Richard Preston, 2007]

During an evening tree climb in New South Wales, “Treetop Meg” once slipped and fell off a branch; fifteen feet to the ground in free fall. She got badly bruised, but without suffering any broken bones [2]. It was time to design smart devices and structures that support safe canopy access and observation.

How did the canopy-asteroid connection arise?
Margaret Lowman has designed hot-air balloons for over 30 years.  The balloons advanced the exploration of canopy worlds, but not asteroid belts. This was the realm of planetary scientist Carolyn Shoemaker (b.  1929, Gallup, New Mexico), a leading discoverer of comets and asteroids and co-discoverer of  the to-be-named asteroid. Shoemaker, who “loves to name real estate in outer space after woman whose work I admire” [2], honored Canopy Meg by coining one of “her” asteroids Lowman,  Thus, an outer-space object got named for a woman dedicated to understand life at the delicate interface between outer space and the human landscape—at Earth's fragile and fractal arboreta branching out into the universe.

Keywords: Minor Planet Lowmanastronomy, planetary science, terminology, honoring female scientists, name giving.

References and more to explore
[1] Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Small-Body Database Browser: 10739 Lowman (1988 JB1) [].
[2] Richard Preston: The Wild Trees. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2008; pp. 53-55.
[3] The Official Web Site Of Margaret D. Lowman, Ph.D., aka: Canopy Meg [].
[4] Oxford Centre for Tropical Forest: Margaret D Lowman, Ph.D. [].

More on naming and classifying orbiting objects in planetary science: