Asteroid’s Namesake

January 6, 2012

Thanks to my friend, colleague, and fellow UFO researcher James McGaha, I now have the distinct honor of having an asteroid named for me! This fact was revealed at the 2011 CSIcon in New Orleans, held on Halloween weekend.

As McGaha noted in bestowing the honor at the awards dinner on October 28, he and I are a political odd couple—representing greatly separated bands on the voting spectrum. In spite of that (or perhaps partly because of it) we have been friends for decades.

Given that his background as a military pilot and astronomer have helped make him a much-sought-after UFO expert on TV shows like Larry King Live and on various documentaries, and that I am myself a long-time UFO investigator and author, it was natural that we would work together at times. Now we are collaborating at a more serious level, and our co-authored Skeptical Inquirer special report, “‘Exeter Incident’ Solved!” (Nov./Dec. 2011), is an example—with more to come.

A CSI scientific consultant, McGaha is a former teacher of astronomy and director of the Grasslands Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. He has actually discovered several asteroids, including the newly named “31451 Joenickell”—a main-belt asteroid with an orbit far outside that of Mars. McGaha discovered it in 1999. (See Appropriately enough, it is believed to be partly composed of nickel.

In his citation (recorded with the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center), McGaha stated that asteroid 31451 Joenickell was “Named in honor of Joe Nickell (b. 1944), the Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. A noted author, investigator, and skeptic, Nickell has written more than 30 books on mysteries, frauds, forgeries and hoaxes. He promotes scientific inquiry and reasoned investigation of extraordinary claims.”

I must thank my good friend for this very special tribute. I will look for ways to repay the favor. I think we agree that, in both our friendship and our commitment to science and reason, the sky’s the limit.