Santa Monica College planetarium director Jon Hodge has had an asteroid named after him.
Asteroid 18117 — now called Jonhodge (all asteroids have one-word names) — was discovered July 5th, 2000, by the Lowell Observatory and is located in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Simon Balm — a Santa Monica College astronomy professor — initiated efforts to get an asteroid named after Hodge.
Through some of his professional contacts, Balm found that Asteroid 18117 was not yet named.
The International Astronomical Union — a nonprofit organization that seeks international cooperation to promote the science of astronomy and ratifies asteroid names — allowed this asteroid to be named after Hodge.
“I was completely bowled over,” Hodge said when his colleagues at the college presented him with a certificate affirming the naming of the asteroid after him. “I was for once speechless.”
Hodge is planning to retire from Santa Monica College, after working as the planetarium director since 1979.
“Jon is very charming, educated, and well-read,” said Vicki Drake, chair of the Santa Monica College Earth Science Department. “I can’t think of a more worthy individual to receive this eternal honor.”
Drake said Hodge is being officially recognized for his “enormous contribution to the dissemination of astronomical and scien- tific knowledge to the general public, college students, and schoolchildren.”
Over the years, he has given lectures “on every subject in the universe,” according to the college. Many of those lectures have catchy titles such as “Apocalypse Now: The Asteroid Risk” and “This Alien Earth.”
His “Night Sky” public shows at the SMC John Drescher Planetarium are held at 7 p.m. Fridays and 8 p.m. Friday feature shows change monthly.
The planetarium was closed for nearly five years in the mid-1990s, first because of a Drescher Hall reconstruction project and then because of the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Hodge’s illustrated lectures continued on during the closure in a college classroom.
There was no dip in attendance because people wanted to hear Hodge’s lectures even if they were not in the planetarium, Drake said.
The planetarium reopened in June 1997 in a new 50-seat facility with a new dome and a high-technology Digistar projection system.
Hodge is popular among astronomers in Southern California and brings guest lecturers to the college from the Griffith Observatory, the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Lab, and UCLA.
He is a member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and the International Planetarium Society.
“He knows everybody and everybody knows him,” said John Mosley, a program supervisor at the Griffith Observatory who has worked with Hodge for 28 years.
Ironically, Hodge’s college degree is not in astronomy. He began as an astronomy major at USC but switched to study the history of medieval science.
After graduating, he worked at the Griffith Observatory in 1971 as a guide and lecturer. He continued to lecture there until it closed three years ago for major renovations and he currently sits on the observatory’s curatorial committee.
He also organized public seminars at UCLA.
Hodge said the highlights of his career have been the new John Drescher Planetarium, the Halley’s Comet close approach to Earth in 1985 and 1986, the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter, and the Earth’s close approach to Mars in August 2003.