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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Conductor Joins Planetary Pantheon

Veronika Dudarova is not only a world-famous conductor and the pride of generations of Russians. She's a planet as well.

Last week, Dudarova took her rightful place next to Hercules, Apollo, Venus, William Shakespeare, Boris Pasternak and Eric Clapton when Russian astronomer Lyudmila Karachkina announced she had named one of her astronomic discoveries after the beloved conductor.

Minor planet Dudarova, a cosmic rock formation roughly 7.5 kilometers in diameter, was discovered in 1986 and finally christened last week. Its namesake, who is conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and a legend in Russian musical circles, said Thursday the unexpected honor was "the dearest of gifts."

"This was a wonderfully unusual surprise," said Dudarova, who was born in 1916 and has been conducting professionally for over half a century. "I am a friend of the cosmos and I feel a very personal connection to outer space."

There's no shortage of opportunities for being granted your own planet. Over 7,000 minor planets - asteroids ranging anywhere from five to 1,000 kilometers in diameter - have been discovered between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter alone. But cosmic immortality is not easily obtained. Typically, it's an honor reserved for mythological figures, world-famous musicians, scientists and other historical figures.

Dudarova, who is one of the few female conductors to achieve world-class status, certainly fits the type. But Karachkina, who since the early 1980s has discovered some 200 minor planets, has paid homage to a number of personal heroes - Pasternak, Edith Piaf and Charlie Chaplin among them.

Fame alone is rarely enough to get your name on a planet, however. The process of approving names for planets, asteroids and comets is a long and arduous one that ends only at the headquarters of the International Astronomical Union based at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Since its founding in Brussels in 1919, the IAU has established guidelines for assuring that planet names are handed out in a "fair, evenhanded" way, with "equitable representation of ethnic groups and countries."

According to the union, no names having political, military, religious or contemporary philosophical significance can be used, although some names of political figures predating the 19th century are acceptable.

Although the general public is welcome to send in ideas of their own, name suggestions are usually submitted to the IAU by the discoverer, who must first provide a series of photos of the specific cosmic body and its orbital path. Once its orbit has been tracked and confirmed, the planet can be named.

Often the international process can take years or even decades. A minor planet discovered by astronomers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences more than 20 years ago was only officially named earlier this month.

The Chinese astronomers ultimately named their planet after Chang-Lin Tien, a former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, making this the second planet named after a Berkeley leader.

Dudarova's own planet may be relatively small, but to people accomplished enough to live on in planetary eternity, size and location aren't all that important.

"Having a planet named after you is the best honor that could be bestowed upon anyone," Dudarova said.