Aretha the Legend Is Gone; Aretha the Asteroid Orbits On

Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, has died at 76. But her legacy will not be forgotten.

Aug 16 2018, 7:07pm

Image: Ryan Arrowsmith

The world is mourning the loss of legendary singer Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul, who died of pancreatic cancer on Thursday morning at her Detroit home. She was 76, but the outpouring of tributes from her fans around the globe show that her legacy will far surpass her lifespan.

NASA was among the many organizations to express grief about Franklin’s death. To honor her, it pointed out that her celestial namesake, asteroid 249516 Aretha, “will keep orbiting beyond Mars.”

The asteroid, which is 4.3 kilometers (2.7 miles) in diameter, was discovered on February 15, 2010, by the NEOWISE project, which uses the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope to hunt small space rocks in the solar system.

It is part of the Veritas family of asteroids, which were likely created when larger planetary bodies collided, sending their remnants into orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Assuming it does not crash into another object, asteroid Aretha will be orbiting the Sun until our star dies.

The asteroid was officially named after Franklin in 2014, by NEOWISE principal investigator Amy Mainzer. The NEOWISE team frequently recognizes civil rights advocates like Franklin in their work, and has named other asteroids after Malala Yousafzai, Rosa Parks, Wangari Maathai, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman.

As soul-wrenching as it is to lose an icon of this caliber, asteroid Aretha is a testament to the widespread love and respect for Franklin. On her 1981 album Love All the Hurt Away, Franklin sang that “there’s a star for everyone.” Fortunately, she lived to see the dedication of an asteroid that was just for her.

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