NASA for the first time was suppose to explore a group of rocky bodies known as the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. On Saturday, NASA launched a spacecraft called “Lucy” on a 12-year mission. This will gather new insights into the solar system’s formation.
On Saturday morning 5:34 am local time (9:34 am GMT) from Cape Canaveral, the Atlas V rocket responsible for motivating the probe was launched.
The mission will observe more asteroids than any probe before
Lucy will become the 1st solar-powered spacecraft to venture so far from the Sun, however, it was named after an ancient fossil of a pre-human ancestor. It will observe more asteroids than any probe before it, eight in all.
Besides, Lucy will make 3 Earth flybys for gravity assists, making it the 1st spacecraft to return to our planet’s proximity from the external solar system.
“Each one of those asteroids, each one of those pristine samples, provide a part of the story of the solar system, the story of us,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission, told NDTV reporters over a call.
However, in 2025, Lucy’s 1st encounter will be with asteroid Donald Johanson in the Main Belt, between Jupiter and Mars. The body is appointed for the discoverer of the Lucy fossil.
According to source, between 2027 and 2033, it will encounter a total of 7 Trojan asteroids; 5 in the swarm that oversees Jupiter, and 2 in the swarm that tracks the gas giant.
The biggest of them is approximately 60 miles (95 kilometers) in diameter.
Lucy will fly by its marked objects within 250 miles (400 kilometers) of their surfaces, and use its onboard devices and huge antenna to investigate their geology, encompassing composition, density, volume and mass.
A diamond in the sky
The Jupiter Trojan asteroids, thought to number adequately over 7,000, are leftover raw materials from the formation of our system’s large planets such as Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn and Neptune.
Moreover, the Scientists assume they carry vital clues regarding the composition and physical conditions in the protoplanetary disk from which all the Sun’s planets, comprising Earth, formed.
They are considerably grouped into 2 swarms; the prominent swarm is one-sixth a lap ahead of Jupiter while the trailing swarm is one-sixth behind.
“One of the really surprising things about the Trojans, when we began to study them from the ground, is how different they are from one another, particularly with their colors,” said Hal Levison, the mission’s key scientist.
Some are red while others are grey, with the distinctions indicating how far off from the Sun they might have formed before inferring their present trajectory.
Lucky assisted in shedding light on human evolution
Lucy the fossil was found in Ethiopia in 1974 and assisted in shedding light on human evolution. This space mission’s name was selected with the hope that it will shed light on the solar system’s evolution.
In fact, Lucy the probe will be holding a diamond beam splitter into the sky; the Lucy Thermal Emission Spectrometer (L’TES), which detects far-infrared radiation, to map asteroid ground temperatures. Through measuring the temperature at varied times of day, the team can determine physical properties such as how much dust, sand or rock is present.