NASA’s Lucy mission towards Jupiter will discover eight never-before-seen worlds

NASA's Lucy mission toward Jupiter will explore eight never-before-seen worlds

An artist’s idea of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. Current outcomes counsel the rocks are uniformly darkish with a touch of burgundy. 


Far out in Jupiter’s orbit lie the Trojan asteroids — fossils from the rock assortment that spawned the large planets over 4 billion years in the past. These hovering time capsules might maintain keys that unlock the origins of Earth, Saturn and Mars.

And in a few weeks, NASA’s Lucy mission is sending a spacecraft towards the traditional uncooked supplies in an formidable and daring try 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 number 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 the whole lot we will that will help you put together for the momentous launch.

Cue “Lucy within the sky with diamonds.”

How one can watch NASA launch the Lucy mission

You’ll be able to watch the take-off 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, however first, let’s dive into why this mission may very well be life-changing for the astronomy subject. 

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 had been left over.

Many had been swept into the limitless 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 were round for billions of years. They’re often called Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. NASA aptly refers to them as “time capsules from the delivery of our photo voltaic system” they usually type two clusters that share an orbit with the fuel big. Over 7,000 have been detected, to date.

“The stuff that went into rising Jupiter and Saturn are actually trapped in these places,” NASA planetary scientist and principal investigator of the Lucy mission, Hal Levison, mentioned 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’s going to go to a fundamental belt asteroid positioned between Mars and Jupiter. 

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


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

NASA notes that “no different house 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 gas, it’s going to fly previous factors of curiosity as a substitute of treading slowly. That does not pose a lot of a hindrance, although, as a result of Lucy can nonetheless snap pics and accumulate spectroscopic data whereas whizzing by.

Mission aims

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

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

Floor coloration and composition: Tones and colours of the rocks, mineral make-up and regolith properties, reminiscent of 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 couple of of the asteroids might need mini-asteroids orbiting them, as if they’re the middle of their very own photo voltaic system. Some may 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 large due to how far the probe can be touring from the solar. 


A researcher engaged on Lucy’s photo voltaic panels.


In accordance with NASA, it’s going to 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 can be successful,” Levison mentioned in an announcement

Mars rovers, reminiscent of 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, we have now this,” Levison remarked.

After a number of iterations of testing, Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy undertaking supervisor from NASA’s Goddard House Flight Middle in Greenbelt, Maryland, mentioned in an announcement that the execution on the bottom was “flawless.” 

Though house is a really completely different enviornment.

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

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 sort of like sending a toddler off to varsity — you have accomplished what can for them to get them prepared for that subsequent large step on their very own,” Levison mentioned.


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


What’s 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 will be the primary ever spacecraft to journey all the way in which to Jupiter and again house.

Future people will face two choices: accumulate Lucy as an artifact and convey it right down to Earth, or permit Jupiter to finally fling it into the solar or out of the photo voltaic system. 

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

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