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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 5, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 24
APL Rocks! Asteroid Named After JHU Applied Physics Lab

Asteroid APL, as seen by the New Horizons spacecraft.

By Michael Buckley
Applied Physics Laboratory

The lab that landed the first spacecraft on an asteroid now has its name on one of the sun-orbiting space rocks.

Lauding the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory's leading role in several planetary missions, the International Astronomical Union approved the name "132524 APL" for the provisionally tagged 2002 JF56, a small main-belt asteroid just beyond Mars' orbit. The Pluto-bound, APL-built New Horizons spacecraft zipped past the asteroid last June, and with some fast planning and programming from operators at APL and other institutions, was able to photograph the 2-mile-wide asteroid while testing its abilities to track moving objects.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., proposed the name to the IAU. "It's nice to see APL get its name enshrined in space," Stern says. "It was long overdue."

Dated Jan. 6, the IAU citation announcing the name identifies APL as the developer of "numerous space missions" such as NEAR to asteroid Eros, MESSENGER to Mercury and New Horizons to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. APL made space history in 2000-2001 with NEAR, or Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous, which was the first spacecraft to orbit and then land on an asteroid.

Walt Faulconer, APL's Civilian Space Business Area executive, said, "As the organization that first landed a spacecraft on an asteroid on behalf of NASA, it's fitting recognition to now have an asteroid named APL. It's also exciting that it's an asteroid we saw with our New Horizons spacecraft on its journey to Pluto. We'll have to plan a mission to 'APL' someday."

Asteroid APL was discovered in May 2002 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro, N.M. To track its path in space, go to: cgi-bin/db_shm?sstr=+2002JF56+.


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