NASA’s Lucy mission to Jupiter’s fossil asteroids: The whole lot to know

NASA's Lucy mission to Jupiter's Trojan asteroids: Everything you need to know

Lucy flies over a Trojan asteroid on this NASA animation.

NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Heart

NASA is about to embark on an area archeology mission for the ages. Out in Jupiter’s orbit lie a group of rocks referred to as the Trojan asteroids — fossils from the earliest period of our photo voltaic system. These time capsules are locked in a dance across the solar and will maintain the important thing to unlocking the origins of the enormous planets. 

Subsequent week, NASA is sending the Lucy spacecraft towards these historic uncooked supplies in an bold and daring decade-long mission to entry our photo voltaic system’s well-preserved historical past.

Completely named for the fossil that taught us about humanity’s genesis, Lucy’s 12-year-long trek guarantees to disclose a cosmic evolutionary document. The spacecraft will catch close-up views of a various choice of Trojan asteroids to assist scientists decipher how and why our photo voltaic system’s planets got here to be. 

Proper now, we all know near nothing about these primitive rocks’ properties. However we have rounded up all the pieces we are able to that can assist you put together for the momentous launch.

Cue “Lucy within the sky with diamonds.”

The way to watch NASA launch the Lucy mission

You possibly can watch the lift-off, presently scheduled for Oct. 16 at 2:34 a.m. PT (5:34 a.m. ET), on-line on NASA TV

Be certain that to examine again nearer to the massive day for a livestream on CNET Highlights and all of the instances throughout the globe. 

And when you wait, let’s dive into why this mission might be world-changing for astronomers.

What are the Trojan asteroids?

Lengthy earlier than planets got here into existence, the photo voltaic system overflowed with trillions of rocky and icy our bodies orbiting a dim solar. A few of these fragments slowly fused collectively to type bigger planets, such because the Earth and Mars. However alongside the way in which, a bunch of floating rocks have been left over.

Many have been swept into the countless depths of the universe — taking their secrets and techniques with them — however a smattering nonetheless stay within the outer reaches of our photo voltaic system.

Caught between the gravitational pull of the solar and Jupiter are these primitive items of rock which have been round for billions of years. They’re referred to as Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. NASA aptly refers to them as “time capsules from the beginning of our photo voltaic system” and so they type two clusters that share an orbit with the gasoline big. Over 7,000 have been detected, up to now.

“The stuff that went into rising Jupiter and Saturn at the moment are trapped in these places,” NASA planetary scientist and principal investigator of the Lucy mission, Hal Levison, stated within the mission’s overview.

The place does Lucy are available in?

Lucy would be the first spacecraft to asteroid-hop amongst seven of the Trojan asteroids, however earlier than heading to each the main and trailing swarms, it will go to a essential belt asteroid situated between Mars and Jupiter. 

In inexperienced, you see the main and trailing swarms of Jupiter Trojans. That is the place Lucy is headed.


“We will eight never-before-seen asteroids in 12 years with a single spacecraft,” Tom Statler, Lucy mission scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington stated in a assertion. “It is a incredible alternative for discovery as we probe into our photo voltaic system’s distant previous.”

NASA notes that “no different area mission in historical past has been launched to as many various locations in impartial orbits round our solar” and that “Lucy will present us, for the primary time, the range of the primordial our bodies that constructed the planets.” 

The spacecraft will use conventional chemical propulsion expertise that’ll assist with maneuvering, however to save lots of gasoline, it will fly previous factors of curiosity as an alternative of treading slowly. That does not pose a lot of a hindrance, although, as a result of Lucy can nonetheless snap pics and gather spectroscopic data whereas whizzing by.

Mission targets

Armed with a high-gain antenna for communication with Earth; high-tech cameras (shade, in addition to black and white); an infrared spectrometer and thermometer, the spacecraft will take a look at a number of key options of those asteroids by capturing their bodily properties: 

Floor geology: This consists of issues like form, crater dimension, crustal construction and layering.

Floor shade and composition: Tones and colours of the rocks, mineral make-up and regolith properties, comparable to unfastened soil composition, are a few of these options.

Interiors and bulk properties: Plenty, densities, powder blankets round craters and different nitty gritty particulars comprise this part.

Satellites and rings: A number of of the asteroids may need mini-asteroids orbiting them, as if they’re the middle of their very own photo voltaic system. Some would possibly even have Saturn-like rings consisting of tremendous small rocks or icy our bodies.

NASA’s Lucy will discover eight asteroids over a dozen years.


Prepping for take-off

It is not straightforward being a NASA probe. 

As a result of Lucy will depend on solar energy for the mission, its arrays — massive sufficient to cowl a 5 story constructing — needed to bear intense testing to make sure they will not malfunction throughout spaceflight. They’re so big due to how far the probe might be touring from the solar. 


A researcher engaged on Lucy’s photo voltaic panels.


Based on NASA, it should take a complete of 20 minutes for these essential photo voltaic panels to increase after launch. “These 20 minutes will decide if the remainder of the 12 12 months mission might be successful,” Levison stated in a press release

Mars rovers, comparable to Perseverance, have shorter spans of anxiety-inducing moments throughout their EDL section, or entry, descent and touchdown sequence. 

“Mars landers have their seven minutes of terror, now we have this,” Levison remarked.

After a number of iterations of testing, Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy mission supervisor from NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Heart in Greenbelt, Maryland, stated in a press release that the execution on the bottom was “flawless.” 

Though area is a really totally different area.

On Oct. 16, Lucy might be transported to the Automobile Integration Facility on the Cape Canaveral Area Pressure Station and “mated” with the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. That rocket will assist Lucy exit Earth’s environment. 

Then, Lucy will propel away from our house planet to start the 12-year voyage, swinging across the photo voltaic system, utilizing Earth’s gravity as leverage 3 times throughout the journey.

“Launching a spacecraft is nearly like sending a baby off to varsity — you’ve got performed what can for them to get them prepared for that subsequent large step on their very own,” Levison stated.


Lucy stands 13 toes (4 meters), practically totally assembled on this photograph.


What is going to occur after the mission is full?

After a dozen years, Lucy will stabilize close to Earth, then campaign as soon as once more to the Trojan asteroid belt. It’s going to be the primary ever spacecraft to journey all the way in which to Jupiter and again house.

Future people will face two choices: gather Lucy as an artifact and produce it right down to Earth, or enable Jupiter to ultimately fling it into the solar or out of the photo voltaic system. 

To not concern. Lucy’s job might be full by then. And maybe our astronomy textbooks might be amended with the unprecedented data it delivers house.

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