Lowell Observatory's Putnam wants to name asteroid for Trayvon Martin

2013-09-05T05:15:00Z Lowell Observatory's Putnam wants to name asteroid for Trayvon MartinEric Betz Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
September 05, 2013 5:15 am  • 

Albert Einstein. George Takei. Jerry Garcia.

All of those men and many others have had an asteroid named after them. And if William Lowell Putnam III, trustee of Lowell Observatory, has his way, another name will be added to that list: Trayvon Martin. 

The retired broadcast executive, alpinist, author and Flagstaff resident believes that Martin has not received justice.

It was an unusually warm night at Anderson Mesa south of Flagstaff on Oct. 2, 2000, when Lowell Observatory astronomers found the asteroid 2000 TM61. It was just one of hundreds that observatory’s researchers discovered as part of their search for Near Earth Asteroids. 

The minor planet was placed into a catalog and forgotten until shortly after Martin, 17, was fatally shot in Sanford, Fla. The unarmed teen’s death sparked nationwide protests and renewed the race debate in America. 

It also sparked disgust with Putnam. 

“As I see it, the social fairness showed to Trayvon Martin was very sadly lacking,” he said. “Inasmuch as I am the sole trustee of an institution which has some naming privileges, I want to do my share to see that this lad is remembered in an appropriate manner.”

Following George Zimmerman’s murder indictment, Putnam had astronomer Edward Bowell, a near-Earth asteroid and comet expert, submit the suggested name. 

The citation for asteroid 2000 TM61 reads:

“Named in memory of Trayvon Martin (1995-2012), a student at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School in Miami, Florida. Unarmed, he was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, during an altercation with the neighborhood watch coordinator.”


It was rejected by the Minor Planet Center, which together with the International Astronomical Union, decides what to name astronomical bodies. The agency said the name was “premature,” but didn’t elaborate on a cause. 

The IAU is the same group that stripped Pluto of its planetary status. 

Famously, in an international contest, Lowell Observatory named the planet Pluto based on the suggestion of an 11-year-old English schoolgirl, who thought the name of an underworld god was appropriate for such a cold, dark place. As the finders, the observatory had the right to name the planet. 

“We do not discuss proposals for minor planet namings prior to the approval of those names. Neither do we confirm if particular names have been proposed,” said Gareth Williams, associate director of the Minor Planet Center and IAU secretary in the group responsible for naming small bodies. “Once names are approved, they become official when the names and accompanying citations are published in the Minor Planet Circulars.”

He did confirm that there is not currently an asteroid named Trayvon.

But now Putnam is renewing his effort in light of the jury’s acquittal earlier this summer. His hope is that the agency will no longer see his request as premature. 

The trustee says that to the best of his knowledge, Lowell Observatory has never sought to name an astronomical body after someone so outside the norm. 


But the Lowell family has a legacy of combating social injustices against African Americans. The family came from great wealth in New England, which Putnam’s Uncle, Percival Lowell, used to found the observatory in Flagstaff. The founder’s trust still helps carry the institution to this day. 

And after Percival died, his younger brother, A. Lawrence Lowell, sought to help continue that astronomy legacy in Flagstaff by paying for the Pluto dome, which would be used to find the former planet that carried Percival’s initials. 

As president of Harvard University, Lawrence argued that black and white students deserved the same access to an education. But he drew controversy with his decision not to force integration in freshman dorms. Lawrence is known as the creator of the modern system of majors in college and reformed Harvard to accept people of all classes, despite his own high-societal standing. 

Putnam remembers spending summers at his great uncle’s home on Cape Cod, where education was a frequent topic of discussion. 

He says that after his parents received an unexpected trust from Lawrence, they set out to find a way to use the funds to honor the man. His mother Caroline established a scholarship for black Roman Catholic students. 

She hired a secretary and traveled across the United States and abroad to lobby Roman Catholics to help send black Americans to college. Her efforts were a huge success. By the 1950s, the scholarship was dishing out $100,000 every year. 

“My parents, mostly my mother, spent the last half of her long life (100 years) raising money to put black folk through college or grad school, on the assumption that education was the key to assimilation and thus economic and social fairness,” Putnam said. “It appears that she was right, and her list of graduates included judges, bishops and many leading citizens.”


Among those who received a scholarship was Charlie Rangel, who used it to pay for law school. The New York congressman is now the third-longest serving member of the House of Representatives. Rangel has been among those who have called for the Department of Justice to investigate if civil rights laws have been violated in the Martin case. 

Putnam believes his family would be proud of the effort to name an asteroid Trayvon. 

“I’ve got the privilege of getting this named for him. I think it’s my job. It’s my duty and my parents would be grateful,” he said.

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(41) Comments

  1. aliceedillard
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    aliceedillard - May 11, 2014 9:20 pm
    The motive is good and I fully support it. I'm trying to finish my thesis on time so that I can focus more on this topic. I hope to see some progress of this in the near future and that the suggestion of Mr. Putnam be accepted.
  2. Rashida
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    Rashida - April 13, 2014 6:39 am
    Yes, it is difficult to find the time to write your story dissertation writing especially if you have a full time job but if you have the heart to do the things you love, you will find a way to accomplish it.
  3. Rashida
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    Rashida - April 13, 2014 5:42 am
    Why write when you don't even have a plan or story line. If you write without a proper start, you are bound to tumble. Get prepared for your story dissertation writing
  4. Jenkem
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    Jenkem - October 17, 2013 6:43 pm
    They deserved to have a son that didn't go around committing crimes.
  5. Jenkem
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    Jenkem - October 17, 2013 12:45 pm
    They receive government funding which I would to to see go away.
  6. digger01
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    digger01 - September 25, 2013 3:05 am
    Unlike Obamacare, Lowell Observatory can be defunded, lers not make the scientufic institution a political pariah. Reject the proposal to name anything after the unfortunate, but unseserving Treyvon Martin and reconsider mr putnams appointment
  7. eastcoast
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    eastcoast - September 09, 2013 7:07 am

    From all grieving parents...Who decides who's child is important and who's child isn't!

    This is unfair to all parents. Trayvon is not deserving of this!
  8. ThirteenthLetter
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    ThirteenthLetter - September 08, 2013 9:50 pm
    "After all, Martin deserves to get his revenge"

    What for? He assaulted a random person and was bashing his head into the concrete when he discovered that his victim had a gun.
  9. ThirteenthLetter
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    ThirteenthLetter - September 08, 2013 9:50 pm
    "Something is frighteningly and systematically wrong with American justice."

    Yes, if somebody grabs your head and bashes it into the concrete you should just lie back and take it, because justice.
  10. ThirteenthLetter
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    ThirteenthLetter - September 08, 2013 9:49 pm
    When I started reading these comments, I thought, "wow, a lot of Trayvon supporters here." Then I realized it was just Bronxlady spamming every reply with her carefully selected subset of the facts.
  11. Bob
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    Bob - September 08, 2013 7:22 am
    I think the phrase Trayvon used was a "weird cracker". And just how do you know Mr. Zimmerman did not identify himself? Were you there? And lastly, I find it interesting that when Zimmerman saw something suspicious, he called 911. When Trayvon noticed the "Cracker" following him, he called his girlfriend. Perhaps Trayvon is like an asteroid. He was certainly on a collision course.
  12. Xeano321
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    Xeano321 - September 07, 2013 8:42 pm
    Tell me, what reason did Trayvon have for beating on Zimmerman? Tell me one reason why Trayvon didn't do the mature thing and just ask him "Why are you following me?", and explain why he was walking? 10 to 1 Zimmerman wouldn't have cared.

    I've been alarmed many times by people, but that is hardly an excuse for beating someone up.
  13. flagstaffborn
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    flagstaffborn - September 07, 2013 8:41 am
    Oh, please. If we knew Zimmerman's or Martin's political leanings it would be political., but we don't, so it isn't. Look up some of the previous names used for meteors and comets and you'll see ya'll are making a tempest in a teacup about Bill Putnam's choice. And by the way--Lowell Observatory is world-renowned already. This isn't a publicity stunt, because the non-profit doesn't need any "publicity". They are already well known around the world.

    Move on, folks.
  14. Bronxlady
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    Bronxlady - September 07, 2013 5:05 am
    Jesb, Mr. Putnam is a dignified and wonderful man. And justice is on it's way. Some very interesting developments are occurring even at this moment.
  15. Bronxlady
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    Bronxlady - September 07, 2013 5:01 am
    Actually, Trayvon was a youth seventeen years of age, so his "past" was not much of a past, whereas Mr. Zimmerman, an adult with quite a history for violence, has a past. Trayvon crossed paths that night with a very angry man with a gun, who'd just been arguing with his wife, according to his wife who is filing for divorce. Mr. Zimmerman is skulking around in the dark with no uniform, following him without identifying himself. Trayvon was alarmed. Wouldn't you be? Brenda
  16. Bronxlady
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    Bronxlady - September 07, 2013 4:47 am
    The adult Mr. Zimmerman, has a criminal record.
  17. Bronxlady
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    Bronxlady - September 07, 2013 4:45 am
  18. Bronxlady
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    Bronxlady - September 07, 2013 4:45 am
    I support the gesture, and consider it a privilege as well Mr. Putnam. Brenda B.
  19. Bronxlady
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    Bronxlady - September 07, 2013 4:41 am
    I do too.
  20. Bronxlady
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    Bronxlady - September 07, 2013 4:39 am
    A star named after Trayvon. I totally love it. Trayvon was murdered because he crossed paths with a very angry man who had been arguing with his wife. She is now filing for divorce citing spousal abuse among other things. What has not been acknowledged by many is that Mr. Zimmerman never identified himself as a neighborhood watchman, which all law enforcement personnel know they must do especially when out of uniform. All Trayvon knew was that a scary man in a red jacket was following him.
  21. sunshine2
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    sunshine2 - September 07, 2013 12:58 am
    Oh, my gosh! I agree! Thanks for the belly laugh. I can hardly believe my eyes reading this.
  22. BillWil
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    BillWil - September 06, 2013 3:06 pm
    For those who want to share their opinion with the observatory here is their contact info: Outreach manager Kevin Schindler phone # 928-233-3210 ; email
  23. AZ_Langer
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    AZ_Langer - September 06, 2013 3:01 pm
    Oh my. If there has been any "social injustice" it has been against George Zimmerman.

    Those who want to know what happened should view all the case documents available at news station and all the pre-trial and trial video available on YouTube.

    What we've been fed by the media, the professional rabble-rousers, and politicians with an agenda, is so far from the truth to be laughable.
  24. Kate
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    Kate - September 06, 2013 11:30 am
    I support the gesture.
  25. clifffalling
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    clifffalling - September 06, 2013 8:28 am
    I'll name a star for anyone. Just send me $35. Hah!
  26. Jesb
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    Jesb - September 06, 2013 8:20 am
    The Putnam Family's legacy is impressive.... I admire Mr. Putnam for taking a stand, for doing one small thing that he can do to bring attention to Trayvon, yes, but also to the larger issue which seems to be missing in the comments to date: Something is frighteningly and systematically wrong with American justice.
  27. DanFrazier
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    DanFrazier - September 06, 2013 7:53 am
    If you are going to name an asteroid after Martin, you should name an asteroid that is headed straight for Earth. After all, Martin deserves to get his revenge. Meanwhile, why not name a hurricane after Martin, especially if it is headed toward Florida.
  28. Matthew Quigley
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    Matthew Quigley - September 05, 2013 7:57 pm
    I quote the caption below Mr. Putnam's picture: "Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin"

    Trayvon Martin was the perpetrator, not the victim. George Zimmerman was the one who was assaulted, his nose broken, his head beaten into the concrete sidewalk. Mr. Zimmerman defended himself and was found not guilty of anything in a court of law. Mr. Putnam, Trayvon paid the ultimate price for his criminal behavior. That's unfortunate. However, no criminal should ever be elevated to "asteroid status"
  29. Matthew Quigley
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    Matthew Quigley - September 05, 2013 7:31 pm
    Curt1 writes: "his life was taken from him in a circumstance which was wrong" The only circumstance which was wrong is this: Trayvon Martin assaulted a guy who was trying protect his neighborhood from thieves. Trayvon broke his nose and began beating his head into the concrete sidewalk. Trayvon provided a lesson for those who contemplate assaulting someone. Don't assault anyone unless you are 100% certain they won't use deadly force against you. Stand your ground.
  30. bmarie
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    bmarie - September 05, 2013 2:00 pm
    yeah, now that's the bigger picture! and here is an even bigger picture......we all compare ourselves among ourselves.....but the bible says ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.......
  31. Obvious John
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    Obvious John - September 05, 2013 12:47 pm
    Mr. Putnam needs to direct that telescope AWAY FROM THE SUN!!
  32. mr parker
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    mr parker - September 05, 2013 10:43 am
    Why not name it after Chris Kyle, an American hero, who served his country and died while trying to help fellow veterans who have PTSD?
  33. Curt1
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    Curt1 - September 05, 2013 10:09 am
    It seems some of you guys are missing the point and are willing to judge someone for bad choices they might have made it doesn't matter what his past was like what matters is his life was taken from him in a circumstance which was wrong it doesn't matter what Trayvon's history was he didn't deserve to die
    I think it is a nice tribute to Trayvon and his family to have an asteroid named for him I am glad to see some people in this world still reach out and do what they can for the less fortunate
  34. ckendall
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    ckendall - September 05, 2013 9:34 am
    More evidence of how warped our values have become. Martin started the fight, he was not an innocent victim.
    This is the fruits of our society treating violence as entertainment. If we want an end to violence, we need to stop PROMOTING it in our entertainment, and instead tell the truth - the negative consequences of violence and crime, and the positive consequences of self-control, responsible behavior and hard work.
  35. Opinionator
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    Opinionator - September 05, 2013 9:23 am
    The observatory is a private business and this is a publicity stunt...not that there's anything wrong with that.
  36. In Paul's opinion
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    In Paul's opinion - September 05, 2013 8:36 am
    Obviously, you are unaware of Trayvon Martin's real character (more a lack of). Examples: On his third school suspension of the year; THC in his found in his blood; Racist Facebook comments that would make even Archie Bunker blush. How about Temar Boggs, wouldn't it be better to name an asteroid or stars after someone who actually contributed something useful to our society.
  37. lesc
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    lesc - September 05, 2013 8:31 am
    My suggestion to Bill Putnam-go gracefully into the sunset, (name a successor trustee first!), rather than turn the Lowell Observatory complex into a political advocacy organization.

    Enough with the political correctness promotion that permeates our society!!!
  38. william moorefield
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    william moorefield - September 05, 2013 8:11 am
    Why not Trayvon Martin? "Spock" got his asteroid. Same with "Jerrylewis" and "James Bond". I'd like to nominate the right Rev. Al Sharpton. Why not ? When fictional characters get their asteroid why not those who are (supposedly) unjustly treated by our legal system and those who constantly stir up hatred. The verdict was clear...though not popular by many. Live with it. Try to make the system better. Stop whining!
  39. Christies1050
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    Christies1050 - September 05, 2013 7:19 am
    It's a great to have an asteroid after Trayvon Martin! His family deserves so much more, but this would be great to have an asteroid named in his honor.
  40. Joseph
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    Joseph - September 05, 2013 6:42 am
    You have got to be kidding me. We can't find someone with a little more character to name an asteroid after? Why Trayvon? Why not Tupac Shaqur?
  41. ambjork
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    ambjork - September 05, 2013 6:21 am
    Putting aside that Trayvon had a criminal record and used drugs and was going a very bad direction in life. That is, if one can put aside all the facts about Trayvon's life, certainly he had done nothing worthy of receiving the naming of an asteroid after him. I think of all the wonderful Black people amongst us today who deserve such an honor, that is, if the qualification is RACIAL. Why not select someone noted for the good they have done. Anita B
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