An asteroid between Mars and Jupiter has been renamed 7307 Takei in honor of the actor, best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in the original "Star Trek" series and movies.
"I am now a heavenly body," Takei, 70, said Tuesday, laughing. "I found out about it yesterday. ... I was blown away. It came out of the clear, blue sky just like an asteroid."
The celestial rock, discovered by two Japanese astronomers in 1994, was formerly known as 1994 GT9. It joins the 4659 Roddenberry (named for the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry) and the 68410 Nichols (for co-star Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura). Other main-belt asteroids have been named for science fiction luminaries Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.
The renaming of 7307 Takei was approved by the International Astronomical Union's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature. About 14,000 asteroid names have been approved by the panel, while about 165,000 asteroids have been identified and numbered, union spokesman Lars Lindberg Christensen said.
Unlike the myriad Web sites that offer to sell naming rights to stars, the IAU committee-approved names are actually used by astronomers, said Tom Burbine, the Mount Holyoke College astronomy professor who proposed the name swap.
"This is the name that will be used for all eternity," he said.
Burbine said he suggested Takei's name in part out of appreciation for his work with the Japanese American Citizens League and with the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. Takei, a spokesman for HRC's Coming Out Project, was cultural affairs chairman of the JACL, and he was appointed to the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission by former President Clinton.
Takei has appeared on NBC's "Heroes" and appears regularly on Howard Stern's satellite radio show.
Under the committee's policies, whoever discovers an asteroid has 10 years in which to propose a name. After that, the panel considers other suggestions, although it warns would-be namers to avoid anything "in questionable taste" and any names honoring political or military figures sooner than 100 years after their deaths.