A planet named after a Vietnamese American

Professor Luu Le Hang, a non resident Vietnamese living in the US has made her mark in the field of astronomy, winning many international awards, with her biggest achievement being when a planet was named after her in 1992. Her colleague, Prof. David C. Jewitt, once commented that because of her valuable contribution, she is worth being called a Super Star.

Research on the Solar System

Professor Luu Le Hang (C) 

Born in 1963, Prof. Luu Le Hang migrated to the US in 1975. She got her Bachelor’s degree from the Stanford University in 1984, with physics as her major.

While working in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she discovered some interesting pictures of the Solar System, which encouraged her to do further research in astronomy.

Since 1987, she has gained many accomplishments in this field.

Prof. Hang recalled that in 1987, she and her colleague, Prof. David C. Jewitt, set their aim to study the Solar System in more depth, especially the outer layers.

At that time, the public knew about such planets as the Earth and its neighbors and some surrounding asteroids.

However, certain bigger planets farther away from Jupiter and even Pluto, which have been considered as the 134340 Pluto Asteroid since 2005, were not known well. Prof. Hang was also curious whether there were other systems besides ours.

Using telescopes, the group of researchers tried to find suspected objects farther than Saturn. In 1992, they discovered a large number of entities far away from Neptune and moving around the Sun. They are now called the Kuiper Belt, a group of ice objects and the leftover from the formation of our Solar System. Being too far from the Sun, they did not develop into planets. These are what formed the basis of the important research project.

This discovery was the turning point and the reason for Prof. Hang to receive an award from the Astronomy Association of the US in 1992. A year later, she won the Hubble Scholarship at California University in Berkeley. She also gained the Doctorate title from the renowned Massachusetts Institute (MIT) this year.

Since 1994, she became a professor at the elite Harvard University and Leiden University in the Netherlands. She is also a senior researcher at Lincoln Centre in MIT.

Well-known name in the world

Thanks to Prof. Hang’s significant contributions, her surname was used to name an asteroid in the Kuiper Belt in 1992 – the 5430 Luu Asteroid.

She also received the Kavli Award in September 2012. Starting from 2005, the award, worth US$1 million and a gold medal, is given bi-annually by the Norway Institute of Science and Literature, the Norway Ministry of Education and Research, and the Kavli Fund to honor scientists with great contribution in the fields of astrophysics, nano technology, and neuroscience.

In 2012, Prof. Hang received the Shaw Prize, established in 2004 by Thieu Dat Phu – founder of the TVB Broadcast Station in Hong Kong. The prize, worth around US$1 million, is presented annually to excellent people in the fields of biology, medicine, and astronomy.

Recalling her astonishment when hearing the news of winning the Shaw Prize on May 29, 2012 and then the Kavli Award two days later, she commented that it was one of the most amazing moments in her whole life. When receiving the Kavli Award in Olso in September from the King of Norway and the Shaw Prize in Hong Kong, she could not contain her astonishment.

By Ngo Minh Tri - Translated by Uyen Phuong

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