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Two asteroids named after Unix co-creators

300909 Kenthompson and 294727 Dennisritchie, two asteroids discovered in 2008, aren't as prominent from Earth as their Bell Labs namesakes.

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Dennis Ritchie (center) and Ken Thompson receiving the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999.
Dennis Ritchie (center) and Ken Thompson receiving the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999. Alcatel-Lucent

Two small asteroids now bear the names of two towering figures in computing history, Unix inventors Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie.

Asteroid 300909 Kenthompson and 294727 Dennisritchie both were discovered in 2008 by Tom Glinos and D. H. Levy (the latter famous for being a discover of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which smashed into Jupiter in 1994).

Rob Pike, who worked with the pair where the influential operating system was invented, AT&T's Bell Labs, flagged the news in a Google+ post yesterday; the new names apparently arrived in February. Pike nowadays is heavily involved in Google's Go, a philosophical successor to the C programming language that Ritchie invented. Ritchie died in 2011.

With an absolute magnitude of 15.5 and 15.6, respectively, Ritchie's and Thompson's asteroids are much less prominent than their namesakes, at least as viewed from Earth. The pair of computer scientists secured many accolades, including the Turing Award in 1983 and the U.S. National Medal of Technology in 1999.

More meaningful, though, is the direct and indirect influence of the pair's technology. Varieties of Unix and its protege, Linux, power countless servers. The BSD version of Unix also is under Mac OS X's covers, and Linux is used in millions of Android phones.

Updated at 9:06 a.m. PT to correct the date comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 struck Jupiter. It was 1994.