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Small Body Designation Formats

The following official designation formats are contained in the Small Bodies Database and recognized by the search utility:

Comet Designation Formats

IAU Designation ("1994 V1", "1995 Q3", etc.)
A year followed by an upper-case letter indicating the half-month of discovery, followed by a number indicating the order of discovery. This nomenclature was established in 1995 and retroactively applied to all comets known at that time to provide a single, uniform, unique identification for every object.
Comet Name ("Shoemaker-Levy 9", "Halley", "Encke", ...)
An ASCII string of letters which may also include hyphens and single quotes.

Note: In order to have unique names for short-period (P < 200yrs) comets, the SBN will continue the previous IAU practice of putting sequential numbers after the name (e.g., "Shoemaker-Levy 9", "Tempel 1"). The SBN maintains a list of periodic comet names, with sequential numbers.
Periodic Comet Number ("1", "2", ... )
1-3 digits, at least until we have 1000 short-period comets to track.
Obsolete Provisional Designation ("1982i", "1887a", "1991a1" ...)
A year followed by a single lower-case letter, optionally followed by a single digit. This system was used up until about the end of 1994.
Obsolete Permanent Designation ("1378","1759 I", "1993 XIII", ...)
A year usually followed by a Roman numeral (which must be in upper-case) indicating the order of perihelion passage of the comet in that year. When there was only one comet passing perihelion in a year, then just the year number is used for this designation. This system was used up until about the end of 1994.

Note that years must include all significant digits, i.e., "66" is interpreted as the year 66, not 1966. Years may be negative.

Asteroid Designation Formats

The IAU maintains a page describing the Naming of Astronomical Objects that includes how minor planets are named.

Minor Planet Number
A sequential number assigned when an object's orbit has become sufficiently well-determined. There are currently over 150,000 numbered minor planets, the vast majority of which are asteroids, with a sampling of comets that behave like asteroids for a significant part of their orbits and a handful of dwarf planets also included.
Name ("Ceres", "A'Hearn", "Zappafrank", ...)
An ASCII string of letters which may also include hyphens and single quotes.
Provisional Designation ("1989 SS2", "1998 HK33", "A869 GA", ...)
A four-digit year followed by a space, then two uppercase letters indicating the portion of the year of discovery, followed by an optional sequential number. This designation used an 'A' (for asteroid) in the century digit of the year number prior to 1924.
Asteroid Surveys ("2100 P-L", "1081 T-1", "1335 T-2", ...)
The Palomar-Leiden and Trojan survey identifications consist of a four-digit number followed by "P-L" or "T-1(2,3)", respectively.

Planet and Dwarf Planet Formats

Major Planet Name ("Jupiter", "Saturn", "Mars", ...)
The (eight) major planets are identified only by their English-language names.
Dwarf Planet Name ("Pluto", "Ceres", "Makemake", ...)
A string of letters which might someday (but doesn't currently) include apostrophes and hyphens.
Minor Planet Number ("134340", "1", "136472", ...)
A sequential number assigned when an object's orbit has become sufficiently well-determined. There are currently over 150,000 numbered minor planets, the vast majority of which are asteroids, with a sampling of comets that behave like asteroids for a significant part of their orbits and a handful of dwarf planets also included.

Satellite (Moon) Formats

Satellite Name ("Io", "Charon", "Hi'iaka", ...)
A string of letters that might include apostrophes.
Permanent Satellite Designation ("Earth I", "Pluto I", "(134340) Pluto IV", "(243) Ida I", ...)
The permanent designation of a satellite consists of the name of its primary body (what it orbits), followed by a roman numeral sequence number. What constitues the "name of the primary body" varies depending on what is know about the primary body at the time:
  • If the primary body is a major planet, the name is just the planet name ("Jupiter", e.g.).
  • If the primary body is a dwarf planet or an asteroid that has both a Minor Planet Number and a name, the name of the primary body is written as the Minor Planet Number enclosed in parentheses followed by the name of the primary. For example: "(243) Ida" or "(134340) Pluto".
  • If the primary body has a Minor Planet Number but no name, the Minor Planet Number enclosed in parenthese may constitute the entire name, or it might include a provisional designation of the primary (it would be the principal provision designation). The period of time when this sort of designation would be used is likely to be extremely short - so there will rarely be anything like this in the cross-ID database.
  • In the case of Pluto, the three moons known prior to 2005 (Charon, Nix, and Hydra) will often be identified using just the name "Pluto" for the primary, rather than "(134340) Pluto", as is used for the moons more recently discovered.
Provisional Designation ("S/2004 N1", "S/2012 (134340) 1", ...)
The string "S/", indicating a satellite, followed by the four-digit year of discovery, followed by an indication of the primary body and a sequence number within that year. If the primary is a major planet, it is identified by its initial - so "S/2004 N1" is the first new satellite of Neptune reported in 2004. If the primary is a dwarf planet or asteroid, it is identified by Minor Planet Number in parentheses - so "S/2011 (134340) 1" is the first new satellite of Pluto (minor planet number 134340) discovered in 2011.