The asteroid

2901 Bagehot  is a main-belt asteroid discovered on February 27, 1973 by the Czech astronomer, Lubos Kohoutek, at the Hamburg-Bergedorf Observatory in Germany.


Asteroids (or “minor planets”, as they are officially known), are named only when they have been observed enough times for an accurate orbit to be calculated.  They are then given a catalogue number.   Bagehot’s number shows that it was the 2,901st asteroid to be formally identified.  After that, the discoverer is allowed to propose a name.

In Bagehot’s case, its discoverer had found so many asteroids that he had forgotten to propose names for them all.  After ten years, such anonymous asteroids become fair game for other namers.  The name of asteroid 2901 was proposed by a former science editor of the Economist, which Bagehot edited for 16 years.  So Bagehot it became.

This means that Bagehot is probably more famous in outer space than he is in his home town.

(With thanks to a piece in the Science and Technology section of The Economist, December 1998)