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Space Briefs:

July 26, 1999
Web posted at: 4:38 p.m. EDT (2038 GMT)

Asteroid target gets new name

(CNN) -- The target of NASA's Deep Space 1 mission now has a new name: 9969 Braille, after the inventor of the raised-bump language system that enables sightless people to read.

Astronomer Eleanor Helin, lead discoverer of the asteroid formerly known as 1992 KD, selected the name Braille from hundreds of suggestions submitted to the Planetary Society, a California group that promotes space exploration, in a world-wide competition.

On July 29, Deep Space 1 will encounter asteroid Braille as part of its mission to test revolutionary technologies that could take us farther and faster into the solar system. DS1's primary new technologies are an ion propulsion and autonomous navigation systems.

The asteroid, with a diameter ranging from one to five kilometers, orbits the sun near Mars and Earth.

Kerry Babcock of Port Orange, Florida submitted the winning name. His citation reads: "Louis Braille invented the Braille language so those who could not see could obtain knowledge and explore through the 'written' word.

"Likewise, asteroid Braille provides knowledge about our universe and its origin to the people of Earth, who through Deep Space 1, are also able to explore and discover what previously they could not 'see.'"

Babcock is a software engineer at the Kennedy Space Center.

Dawn to dusk in five minutes

(CNN) - Spinning faster than any object ever observed in the solar system, an asteroid discovered last year rotates so swiftly that its day ends almost as soon as it begins, a NASA astronomer says.

Steven J. Ostro and an international team of astronomers used a radar telescope in California and optical telescopes in the Czech Republic, Hawaii, Arizona and California to get an image of Asteroid 1998 KY26, where the sun rises or sets every five minutes.

The asteroid, about the diameter of a baseball diamond, is the smallest solar system object ever studied in detail. Ostro's results were published in the latest issue of Science magazine.

"These observations are a breakthrough for asteroid science and a milestone in our exploration of the small bodies of the solar system," Ostro said. "Enormous numbers of objects this small are thought to exist very close to Earth, but this is the first time we've been able to study one in detail.

"Ironically, this asteroid is smaller than the radar instruments we used to observe it," he said.

The asteroid, a water-rich mini-planet, completes a revolution every 10.7 minutes, compared to 24 hours on Earth and at least several hours for the some 1,000 asteroids studied so far.

The asteroid also contains about a million gallons of water, enough to fill two or three Olympic-sized swimming pools, Ostro said. Scientists have long looked at asteroids, the moon and other objects as a potential source of water, which can be converted into rocket fuel.


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