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Uzbek Space Triumph Arrives In Time For Independence Day

A NASA photo of an asteroid
A NASA photo of an asteroid
State information agency UzA this week was touting Uzbekistan's latest space triumph as a "gift" to coincide with Independence Day.

On the eve of the 21st anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence, UzA asserted, Uzbek astronomers learned that a newly discovered minor planet has been named for the country's Maidanak Observatory.

"This event, evidence of the high degree of recognition for [Uzbek] astronomy," the report went, "is one more gift for this greatest of holidays that is so dear to our nation."

In fact, the minor planet was found well over a decade ago and officially named no later than May, months before Uzbek Independence Day on September 1.

Asteroid 22948 was discovered on October 2, 1999, by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station in the U.S. state of Arizona. It's unclear precisely when the asteroid was named, but “Maidanak” first appears on the Harvard Minor Planet Center List for May 2012.

So while Uzbek media aren't necessarily on another planet, UzA and other state outlets took light years to report the story.

Maidanak is not Uzbekistan’s first astronomical jewel. In August 2010, President Islam Karimov named a minor planet -- discovered at the observatory -- after Uzbekistan’s cradle of astronomy, Samarkand, where the science blossomed in the 15th century under the guidance of astronomer and ruler Ulugh Beg.

The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent issued a glowing press release about the discovery and about Maidanak Observatory, which sits atop the Pamir Alai mountain range in southeastern Uzbekistan.

But while Samarkand basked in astronomical glory centuries ago, the naming of a minor planet for a major Uzbek observatory probably shouldn't be overstated. NASA has so far recorded data for 588,855 asteroids, and new asteroids are discovered on an almost daily basis.

According to the International Astronomical Union, names of minor planets are proposed by the discoverer, to be judged and decided by an IAU committee.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Shukhrat Egamberdiev, the director of the Astronomical Institute of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, said the proposal to name Asteroid 22948 for Maidanak was itself a notable achievement.

“There are many new planets discovered, and not all of them get named," Egamberdiev said. "Their proposal to name one of them after Maidanak was approved. And this is a great recognition of our observatory.”

-- Deana Kjuka and Oktambek Karimov with Alisher Sidikov

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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