Sleepless in Space: How Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan Had a Cosmic Encounter

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JPL-Caltech/Handout/Reuters/NASA

Image courtesy of NASA shows an artist's concept of a broken-up asteroid. It's unknown whether asteroids 12818 Tomhanks and 8353 Megryan have broken up

Once upon a time, there was an asteroid called 12818 and one named 8353.

These two asteroids, which were discovered over the space of seven years and across different hemispheres, recently made their closest approach yet to Earth in September. Nothing remarkable about that, you might imagine. But what if we told you that the names given to these astronomical wonders were — wait for it — Tomhanks and Megryan. Truth can be stranger than fiction or, in this case, the movies.

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The bare facts are these: Asteroid 12818 Tomhanks came within roughly 151 million miles of Earth on Sept. 12, with 8353 Megryan doing “her” thing from around 191 million miles out on Sept. 27 (no need to freak out, neither posed any real risk to our planet, which is more than can be said for some of their film roles).

It’s really quite a beautiful coincidence, befitting two of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. And if the pair are looking for a hat trick of successes together after Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, they should be now pitching something along the lines of Lost in Space or Amorous Asteroids.

And seeing how many a movie has an enchanting backstory, you’ll be relieved to hear that this is no different. Asteroid 12818 Tomhanks was discovered in April 1996 by University of Arizona astronomer Joseph L. Montani, who was part of a team of astronomers called Spacewatch. His colleague Jim Scotti came up with the name as, “I started thinking about people that deserved asteroid names,” he told SPACE.com. “Tom Hanks is a fellow space geek, he grew up with Apollo and man walking on the moon.”

And what of Ryan? We have Eric Elst at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile to thank for her discovery, as it stems from his observation back in the April of 1989. Elst was able to justify the name because he found the following citation in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Small-Body Database. “Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra (Meg Ryan, b. 1961) majored in journalism and later became an actress. She showed her talent in ‘You’ve got Mail’ (1999).”

We’d like to think that the cosmic date went without a hitch: 12818 paid for the drinks while 8353 had never looked lovelier. But they’re but the tip of this particular iceberg (if you’ll permit us to mix our metaphors). Because news emerges that, in the month of October alone, the likes of  asteroid 3656 Hemingway, asteroid 7032 Hitchcock, asteroid 4457 van Gogh, asteroid 18932 Robinhood, asteroid 2919 Dali, asteroid 2266 Tchaikovsky, asteroid 3769 Arthurmiller and asteroid 214476 Stephencolbert are all making their closest approaches to Earth.

Can somebody out there do the decent thing and name an asteroid after NewsFeed so we don’t feel left out of the coolest party that’s possibly ever taken place? (via Mother Nature Network)

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Glen Levy is an Executive Producer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @glenjl. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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