Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Has an Asteroid Named After Her

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's name became a lot more well-known around the nation this week, but since 2007, her name has been floating around our solar system. Scott Heins/Getty Images

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rocked the political world when she unseated incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) in New York's 14th congressional district Democratic primary on June 26. This wasn't the first time Ocasio-Cortez had rocked something, however.

In fact, she's been rocking outer space since 2007 after an asteroid was named after her.

A political and space rock star

Not everyone gets to name an asteroid. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) reserves that right for those who discover the asteroids. Those who do get 10 years to file a name for approval.

The asteroid named for Ocasio-Cortez, officially dubbed 23238 Ocasio-Cortez, was discovered Nov. 20, 2000, by the Lincoln Observatory Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory. Rachel Evans, an electrical engineer at Lincoln Laboratory was one of the scientists who worked on LINEAR at the time 23238 was discovered. She and her boss, Grant Stokes, had naming rights to every asteroid LINEAR discovered.

The two decided that the best way to name the asteroids was to name them after students who won science and engineering fairs.

"We didn't want to make it willy-nilly. We wanted to keep it exclusive," Evans told Business Insider.

"Usually science people aren't in the newspaper," Evans said. "This is a way to encourage an interest in science because local newspapers will write up, 'Tommy Smith had an asteroid after him.' It's almost as cool as, 'Tommy Smith made three touchdowns at the football game.'"

Ocasio-Cortez was one such student. Her high school microbiology project won second place at Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair in 2007, and that's why her name was up for consideration. Evans submitted her name to the IAU, and in August 2007, 23238 became 23238 Ocasio-Cortez.

"Science was my first passion. Asteroid named by @MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in honor of longevity experiments I conducted out of Mt. Sinai," Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter.

We don't know much about 23238 Ocasio-Cortez since no one has flown a spacecraft near it. What we do know is that it's roughly 1.44 miles long and is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Its orbit around the sun, which takes three years, 10 months, nine days and 18 hours to complete, is very stable and has zero chance of destroying the planet unless something decidedly weird happens.

This was by design, according to Evans. She and Stokes purposefully picked "safe" asteroids.

"We want to assure all the students that their asteroid will never impact Earth," Evans said.