Lucy spacecraft: NASA mission to study asteroids near Jupiter

Lucy spacecraft

An illustration of the Lucy spacecraft passing one of many Trojan asteroids close to Jupiter

Southwest Analysis Institute/NASA

NASA’s newest mission to check the Trojan asteroids is about to launch on 16 October from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard an Atlas V rocket. The Lucy spacecraft would be the first to check these asteroids up shut, giving us a window into the formation of our photo voltaic system.

The Trojan asteroids circle the solar in two swarms that share Jupiter’s orbit like a police escort for the planet, one shifting forward of Jupiter and the opposite simply behind it. They’re a number of the most pristine relics from the early photo voltaic system, considered leftovers from the method that shaped the outer planets.

“They’re held there by the gravitational impact of Jupiter and the solar, so for those who put an object there early within the photo voltaic system historical past, it [will be] steady perpetually,” mentioned mission chief Hal Levison at Southwest Analysis Institute in Texas, throughout a press convention on 13 October. “This stuff actually are the fossils of what planets type from.”

Regardless of their significance, the asteroids’ unusual orbits imply that we now have by no means studied them up shut. To get there, Lucy should comply with a fancy trajectory over the course of 12 years. First, it’s going to make two fly-bys of Earth to construct up momentum, which can toss it in the direction of the main swarm of asteroids. On its manner there, in 2025, it’s going to fly previous a non-Trojan asteroid named (52246) Donaldjohanson after the discoverer of Lucy, a well-known fossilised skeleton of a human ancestor for which the mission is known as.

As soon as the spacecraft reaches the main swarm, it’s going to look at 4 Trojan asteroids, one in all which has its personal moon. Lastly, Lucy will swoop previous Earth once more and go to a pair of asteroids within the trailing swarm in 2033. After that, if all goes properly, it’s going to maintain flying backwards and forwards between the 2 clouds of Trojans each six years till the solar-powered spacecraft deteriorates.

Lucy carries three foremost scientific devices. One will measure the warmth coming off the asteroids in an effort to determine their floor properties, whereas one other will look at the sunshine bouncing off them to be taught what they’re fabricated from. The third instrument is a digital camera that may take detailed color pictures.

Over the course of its journey, Lucy will go to all three foremost sorts of Trojans, that are outlined by the color and reflectivity of their surfaces. The three differing types might point out completely different compositions or birthplaces of those asteroids, which may assist us perceive the place within the photo voltaic system they shaped and the way they had been tossed round as the enormous planets migrated to their present areas.

“One of many actually shocking issues concerning the Trojans once we began to check them from the bottom was how completely different they’re from one another,” mentioned Levison. “If you wish to perceive what this inhabitants is telling us about how the planets shaped, it’s essential perceive that range, and that’s what Lucy is meant to do.”

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