NASA’s Lucy mission is launching to study asteroids near Jupiter

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By Leah Crane

Lucy spacecraft

An illustration of the Lucy spacecraft passing 1 of the Trojan asteroids adjacent Jupiter

Southwest Research Institute/NASA

NASA’s latest ngo to survey the Trojan asteroids is acceptable to motorboat connected 16 October from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard an Atlas V rocket. The Lucy spacecraft volition beryllium the archetypal to survey these asteroids up close, giving america a model into the enactment of our star system.

The Trojan asteroids ellipse the prima successful 2 swarms that stock Jupiter’s orbit similar a constabulary escort for the planet, 1 moving up of Jupiter and the different conscionable down it. They are immoderate of the astir pristine relics from the aboriginal star system, thought to beryllium leftovers from the process that formed the outer planets.

“They’re held determination by the gravitational effect of Jupiter and the sun, truthful if you enactment an entity determination aboriginal successful the star strategy history, it [will be] unchangeable forever,” said ngo person Hal Levison astatine Southwest Research Institute successful Texas, during a property league connected 13 October. “These things truly are the fossils of what planets signifier from.”

Despite their importance, the asteroids’ unusual orbits mean that we person ne'er studied them up close. To get there, Lucy volition person to travel a analyzable trajectory implicit the people of 12 years. First, it volition marque 2 fly-bys of Earth to physique up momentum, which volition flip it towards the starring swarm of asteroids. On its mode there, successful 2025, it volition alert past a non-Trojan asteroid named (52246) Donaldjohanson aft the discoverer of Lucy, a famous fossilised skeleton of a quality ancestor for which the ngo is named.

Once the spacecraft reaches the starring swarm, it volition analyse 4 Trojan asteroids, 1 of which has its ain moon. Finally, Lucy volition swoop past Earth again and sojourn a brace of asteroids successful the trailing swarm successful 2033. After that, if each goes well, it volition support flying backmost and distant betwixt the 2 clouds of Trojans each six years until the solar-powered spacecraft deteriorates.

Lucy carries 3 main technological instruments. One volition measurement the vigor coming disconnected the asteroids successful an effort to fig retired their aboveground properties, portion different volition analyse the airy bouncing disconnected them to larn what they are made of. The 3rd instrumentality is simply a camera that volition instrumentality elaborate colour images.

Over the people of its journey, Lucy volition sojourn each 3 main types of Trojans, which are defined by the colour and reflectivity of their surfaces. The 3 antithetic types whitethorn bespeak antithetic compositions oregon birthplaces of these asteroids, which could assistance america recognize wherever successful the star strategy they formed and however they were tossed astir arsenic the elephantine planets migrated to their existent locations.

“One of the truly astonishing things astir the Trojans erstwhile we started to survey them from the crushed was however antithetic they are from each other,” said Levison. “If you privation to recognize what this colonisation is telling america astir however the planets formed, you request to recognize that diversity, and that is what Lucy is intended to do.”

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