Dark Star Named for Jerry Garcia

Grateful Dead guitarist lives on as an asteroid

By Caroline Keough of the Examiner staff
(Copyright 1995 The Examiner)
November 1995

When he was alive, Jerry Garcia was a star. Now a star is Jerry Garcia. Thanks to a pair of spaced-out Grateful Dead fans, Jerry Garcia has a place in a tiny piece of the sky. Two Arizona astronomers named an asteroid "Garcia" after the legendary guitarist and guru of a counterculture movement that spanned three decades. "Partly we were really sad, but really we just wanted to give a tribute, and it was the only gift we could give," said Ed Olszewski, a research astronomer at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory. Olszewski and his friend Simon Radford, an astronomer at the Radio Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, came up with the idea in an e-mail conversation Aug. 9, the day Garcia died.

The nomenclature of celestial bodies prohibits planets, comets, moon craters and even the features of Venus from being named after dead rock stars, so "an asteroid was about the only thing left," Olszewski said. Radford and Olszewski, confirmed Deadheads who met in graduate school, found a fellow astronomer who had discovered an asteroid in 1985 and never named it. Tom Gehrels, a professor at Arizona's Kitt Peak Observatory, offered them a small asteroid in orbit between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid, which is less than 100 miles across, can't be seen without a high-powered telescope.

"Without its high profile namesake, it would have remained obscure, Olszewski said. "I could have named it after my mother, and no one would ever have known about it," he said. After the asteroid was officially dubbed "Garcia" Nov. 7 by the International Astronomical Union, the keeper of celestial names, word spread quickly over the Internet.

"His music meant a lot to a lot of people," Olszewski said. "I've gotten messages from people saying that they were moved and thought this was a fitting tribute."

Late Breaking Technical Update

Asteroid 1985RB1, discovered in 1985, was officialy renamed 4442Garcia during a conference of the International Astronomical Union in 1995.

– The Choirmaster, December 1, 2000

(Other newspaper headlines from around the country):

A "Rare" Rainbow Around the Sun

Reported August 10, 1995

About noon Wednesday, anyone who looked skyward may have seen a colorful treat: A rainbow around the sun. "I would say it's a rare event," said state climatologist Dan Leathers. "That was really a pretty nice one." Just as rainbows after storms are formed by light passing through rain or fog, Wednesday's circular type around the sun, which lasted only a few hours, was caused by refraction of the sun's light through ice crystals - very, very small ice crystals. "You only see those on a day when you have pretty high cirrus clouds," Leathers said.