Duncan Steel

Duncan I. Steel

Born (1955-06-11) 11 June 1955 (age 66)[1]
EducationUniversity of London (BSc, 1977)
Queen Mary College (1978)
Imperial College of Science and Technology (MSc, DIC, 1979)
University of Canterbury (PhD, 1985)
Scientific career
FieldsSpace science

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.[2]


Duncan grew up in Midsomer Norton, Somerset, where he attended Norton Hill School (formerly Midsomer Norton Grammar School) from 1966–73.

Minor planets discovered: 12 [2]
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).

Books published[]

Other achievements[]


  1. ^ Birthday Scan. "11.June 1955". Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Minor Planet Discoverers (by number)". Minor Planet Center. 4 September 2016. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  3. ^ "Astronomy Book Reviews". SkyNews. 20 April 2013. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  4. ^ Hannah, Robert (2000). "Review: Duncan Steel, Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar". Material Culture Review. 52.
  5. ^ 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.