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Philanthropist Buhl Jr. immortalized with asteroid

| Sunday, June 22, 2014, 9:10 p.m.
The International Astronomical Union has announced that an asteroid now bears Henry Buhl Jr.’s name. Asteroid number “1990 AA” is now referred to as “Henrybuhl.” Buhl was a Pittsburgh philanthropist who established The Buhl Foundation, which supports education, human services, youth programs and economic development. It established Buhl Planetarium, the predecessor organization of the Carnegie Science Center, in 1939.

The man whose benevolence gave Pittsburgh a facility for stargazers will be honored in perpetuity among the stars.

Asteroid No. 1990 AA has been renamed Henrybuhl, for philanthropist Henry Buhl Jr., whose Buhl Planetarium is part of Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore.

In anticipation of the planetarium's upcoming 75th anniversary, two Buhl staff members — Frank Mancuso, planetarium producer, and Dan Malerbo, education coordinator — were discussing asteroids that are named for people with connections to Pittsburgh.

“We actually were both kind of surprised that nowhere in the past had anyone thought about submitting (Buhl's) name,” Mancuso said.

So he put the idea before the Minor Planet Center at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which is part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., said Gareth Williams, associate director of the Minor Planet Center.

The International Astronomical Union, the Paris-based organization responsible for naming planetary objects, approved the Henrybuhl name as a permanent designation.

“Over the course of his life, Henry Buhl made such significant contributions to the planetarium, science education and the community. It's truly gratifying to honor his impact in this way,” Ron Baillie, a science center co-director, said in a prepared statement.

In 1869, Buhl and Russell H. Boggs opened a dry goods store on Federal Street in the North Side, according to the Buhl Foundation. The men became wealthy.

Buhl died on June 11, 1927, without any direct heirs, and his will established the foundation to support education, human services, youth programs and development projects. The foundation was endowed with $11 million in 1928.

Buhl Planetarium, which the foundation established, was the fifth American planetarium when it opened in October 1939, Mancuso said. In 2006, Carnegie Science Center used a $1 million gift from the Buhl Foundation to buy and install its full-dome, digital projection system.

“The planetarium is known worldwide for some of the shows that we've done in recent years,” Mancuso said.

The asteroid named for Buhl was discovered on Jan. 3, 1990, by T. Hioki and S. Hayakawa in Okutama, Japan.

Its magnitude, or brightness, is +16, which makes it faint, Mancuso said. The asteroid orbits the sun once every 1,549 Earth days.

Asteroids, or minor planets, can be named for people, places, events, even fictional characters — but not politicians or military figures who have been dead for less than 100 years or political/military events that happened less than 100 years earlier, Williams said.

Prohibited are profane names and naming objects after the person submitting the request, he said.

The Minor Planet Center names about 1,300 minor planets a year.

Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662.

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