NASA embarked on a 12-year mission to study a group of asteroids on Saturday with the launch of Lucy, a robotic explorer that will meander through the unexplored caverns of deep space to find new clues about the creation of our system. solar.
The 5:34 a.m. takeoff east of Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket was the first step on Lucy’s four-billion-mile path to Jupiter’s orbital quarter. There, two swarms of asteroids known as Trojans have been hidden for billions of years, remnants of remnants of the early formation of the solar system.
The spacecraft launched before dawn, and set off into orbit that will begin its elaborate trajectory. Lucy separated from the second impulse of the rocket about an hour after takeoff and about half an hour later deployed two circular solar panels that will power the spacecraft throughout its journey.
Around the sun on each side of Jupiter, the two clouds of dark asteroids have only been examined by scientists from afar. About 10,000 of the approximately one million estimated to exist have been identified. Lucy will be the first spacecraft to dive directly into the clusters for views of about seven unique Trojan asteroids, in addition to a tiny asteroid in the main asteroid belt of the solar system.
“The last 24 hours have just been a roller coaster of excitement and accumulation and everything has been a success,” Lucy’s lead researcher Hal Levison said in a live broadcast from NASA after the launch. “We have a chance to really do that. The planets are literally aligned in order to make that trajectory a reality.”
He and other mission scientists hope the sedan-sized probe will uncover evidence of the planets’ migration to their current orbits.
What is Lucy?
The Lucy spacecraft, named after the fossilized skeleton of a hominid ancestor that transformed our understanding of human evolution, will use a set of scientific instruments to analyze Trojan asteroids: celestial fossils that scientists at mission expects them to transform human knowledge about the formation of the solar system.
Managed by the Southwest Research Institute, with a spacecraft built for NASA by Lockheed Martin, the total cost of the mission is $ 981 million. The probe is about the size of a small car and weighs about 3,300 pounds when refueled.
His scientific instruments include the TES, or the Lucy Thermal Emission Spectrometer, a telescope designed to scan asteroid surfaces for infrared radiation and measure the speed or slowness of space rock surfaces. they are heated and cooled by exposure to the heat of the sun. Built by Arizona State University scientists, the gadget is essentially an advanced thermometer. Analyzing how quickly asteroids accumulate heat gives scientists an idea of how much dust and rocky material is scattered on their surfaces.
Another device is THE LORRI, or the Lucy Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, built by engineers and scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. This telescope will capture black and white images of asteroid surfaces, revealing craters and ridges that have long been surrounded by darkness.
Lucy’s third tool, The Ralph, has a color camera and an infrared spectrometer. Each instrument is designed to detect bands of light emitted by ice cream and minerals that scientists expect to be present on the surface of asteroids.
The spacecraft will spend 12 years hunting eight asteroids and embarking on a complicated path that uses Earth’s gravity three times to throw itself around the sun and through the two swarms of Trojans under the gravitational influence of Jupiter. As it travels across Jupiter’s orbital path, Lucy will travel approximately four billion miles during her main mission.
What are Trojan Asteroids?
Trojan asteroids are swarms of rocky material left over from the formation of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago. No spacecraft has ever visited asteroids, which orbit the sun on each side of Jupiter and in the same orbital path, but at a great distance from the giant planet.
Before reaching the Trojans, he will fly through an asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter named after Donald Johanson, the scientist who discovered Lucy’s skeleton. The spacecraft will first visit 52246 Donaldjohanson in April 2025 and then head to its main destinations.
Lucy will make six flybys of the Trojan asteroids, one of which has a small moon, and result in seven visited Trojans. The observations should provide scientists with a diverse set of asteroid material to analyze on Earth.
What do scientists expect from the Lucy mission?
Trojan asteroids have been hidden in the dark and almost impossible to analyze. Scientists expect them to be an unexplored source of data to test theoretical models about the formation of the solar system and how the planets ended up in their current orbits around the sun.
What other deep space missions does NASA have soon?
Finally, Lucy will follow two more asteroid missions, along with:
DART: Launched in November, NASA’s mission of the Dual Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is to crash a spacecraft against an asteroid to keep it out of the way. The mission tests a method of planetary defense that may one day be useful if an asteroid threatens Earth.
James Webb Space Telescope: A roughly $ 10 billion tracking of NASA’s famous Hubble Telescope. He will study planets that will orbit distant stars and look for light from the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.
Artemis-1: NASA plans in the coming months to launch an unmanned Orion astronaut capsule over its massive rocket Space Launch System around the Moon and back. It is the first mission of the agency’s Artemis program, which one day aims to send American astronauts to the moon.
Psyche: Next year, NASA plans to send a probe to Psyche, a metallic asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter made of nickel and iron that looks like the core of an early planetary body. Like the asteroids in Lucy’s mission, it could provide clues about the formation of our solar system.
Europa Clipper: In 2024, NASA intends to send a spacecraft to Jupiter to scan the icy moon Europa and determine if its underground ocean could harbor life.