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Duncan I. Steel FRAS (born 11 June 1955) is a British scientist born in Midsomer Norton, Somerset. Currently he lives in Wellington, New Zealand, but holds visiting positions as a Professor of astrobiology at the University of Buckingham in England; as a space scientist at NASA-Ames Research Center in California; and as an astronomer at Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland. Duncan is a space science authority who has worked with NASA to assess the threat of comet and asteroid collisions and investigate technologies to avert such impacts. He is also the author of four popular-level science books on space, and regularly writes for The Guardian and various other newspapers and magazines. He is a discoverer of minor planets including the main-belt asteroid 9767 Midsomer Norton.
Duncan I. Steel
|Born||11 June 1955|
|Education||University of London (BSc, 1977)|
Queen Mary College (1978)
Imperial College of Science and Technology (MSc, DIC, 1979)
University of Canterbury (PhD, 1985)
|5263 Arrius||13 April 1991|
|6828 Elbsteel||12 November 1990|
|9038 Helensteel||12 November 1990|
|9193 Geoffreycopland||10 March 1992|
|9758 Dainty||13 April 1991|
|9767 Midsomer Norton||10 March 1992|
|10107 Kenny||27 March 1992|
|16578 Essjayess||29 March 1992|
|24734 Kareness||10 March 1992|
|55815 Melindakim||31 December 1994|
|58196 Ashleyess||10 March 1992|
|69311 Russ||21 August 1992|
Duncan attended the University of London, studying as an undergraduate at Queen Elizabeth College (BSc in Physics and Astrophysics, 1977) and also University College, and as a graduate student in astrophysics at Queen Mary College (1977–78) and then at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, where he took an MSc and DIC in Applied Optics (1978–79). From September 1979 to January 1982 he worked at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics of the University of Colorado at Boulder on NASA's Pioneer Venus Orbiter spacecraft. For the following three years he was at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, building a radar for meteor studies, being awarded a PhD degree in 1985. Between 1985 and 1996 he was associated with the University of Adelaide, South Australia, undertaking research in radar meteors, and asteroid and comet dynamics. In 1987–88 he was a European Space Agency Research Fellow at Lunds Observatoriet, Sweden. From 1990–95 he also worked at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Coonabarabran, New South Wales, where he established and directed the first southern hemisphere program for the discovery and tracking of near-Earth asteroids. From 1988–99 he additionally ran his own companies, amongst them Spaceguard Australia Pty Ltd. He was Associate Professor of Space Technology at the Joule Physics Laboratory, University of Salford in 1999–2003. From 2004–2012 he worked in Canberra for Ball Aerospace Australia and QinetiQ Pty Ltd, providing expert advice on technical matters to the Australian Department of Defence.
He has been involved in investigations on small bodies in the solar system using optical telescopes, meteor radar systems, and theoretical techniques to investigate their dynamical evolution. Amongst his scientific achievements have been the identification of the first asteroid spinning so fast that it must be a monolith, the first identification of interstellar dust entering the atmosphere, and an influx of comet-derived meteoroids ablating high in the atmosphere that appear to be made of tarry organics. He is also interested in the astronomy and history of calendars, and the life of Charles Babbage among many other things.
He named the asteroids 5263 Arrius and 6828 Elbsteel after his sons Harrison Callum Bertram Steel (b. 1992) and Elliot Lewis Barnaby Steel (b. 1995). Harry's asteroid couldn't be called Harrison because there was already one of those (George Harrison), and 'Arrius' was the title of a poem by Catullus that Duncan had to translate in Latin class at MNGS (about a Roman who dropped his aitches); whilst Elliot's asteroid couldn't be called that because there was already one named Eliot (for T.S. Eliot).
- Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets: The Search for the Million Megaton Menace That Threatens Life on Earth (Wiley, New York, 1995) (with a foreword by Arthur C. Clarke).
- Eclipse: The Celestial Phenomenon Which Changed the Course of History (The Joseph Henry Press, Washington D.C., 2001) (with a foreword by Paul Davies).
- Target Earth (Time Life 2000; Readers Digest 2001) (with an afterword by Arthur C. Clarke)
- Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar (Wiley, New York, 2000).
- Eclipse: The Celestial Phenomenon That Changed the Course of History (National Academies Press, Washington DC, 2001) (with a foreword by Paul Davies).
- Duncan is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the International Astronomical Union.
- He has discovered a dozen numbered minor planets including the 9767 Midsomer Norton, in 1992, which he named for his home town.
- The Hungaria asteroid 4713 Steel, discovered by Robert McNaught in 1989, is named after him.
- He also discovered the asteroids 5263 Arrius and 6828 Elbsteel which were named for his sons by the International Astronomical Union. Amongst his other discoveries are: 10107 Kenny, named for his father; 16578 Essjayess, named for his mother (her initials are SJS); 24734 Kareness, named for his elder sister; 55815 Melindakim, named for his middle sister; 58196 Ashleyess, named for his youngest sister; and 69311 Russ, named for his brother. However, his favourite is 7345 Happer (discovered by Robert H. McNaught), which is named for the character Felix Happer in the movie Local Hero, who really wanted a comet to be called after him.
- There is a robot named after Duncan (viz. Robot Steel) in Arthur C. Clarke's novel The Hammer of God.
- He has worked for both NASA and the European Space Agency.
- Duncan is author of over 140 refereed scientific research papers and a thousand newspaper and magazine articles.
- He has appeared in many TV and radio programmes, including BBC TV's The Sky at Night.
- Duncan was Science Adviser for the two-hour documentary Three Minutes to Impact, which was awarded an Emmy for Best Script in 1998.
- He was one of six foreign members of NASA's Spaceguard committee in 1991–92 and was the only non-US member of the Near-Earth Object Interception and Deflection committee.
- Duncan twice served as Vice-President of The Spaceguard Foundation.
- He was a member of the British Delegation to the OECD Global Science Forum conference on Near-Earth Objects, Frascati, Italy, 2003.
- Birthday Scan. "11.June 1955". Retrieved 26 August 2018.
- "Minor Planet Discoverers (by number)". Minor Planet Center. 4 September 2016. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
- "Astronomy Book Reviews". SkyNews. 20 April 2013. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
- Hannah, Robert (2000). "Review: Duncan Steel, Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar". Material Culture Review. 52.
- Schmadel, Lutz D. (2007). "(4713) Steel". Dictionary of Minor Planet Names – (4713) Steel. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. p. 406. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-29925-7_4625. ISBN 978-3-540-00238-3.