NASA: Lucy space mission to Trojan asteroids to reveal Earth birth details
NASA is set to launch a new space mission -- 13th in its Discovery Program -- that will travel all the way to the Trojan asteroids to know more about origins of Earth. The space mission called Lucy will launch on October 16 on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
What are Trojan asteroids?
As NASA explains it, Lucy space mission is the first one to explore a diverse population of small bodies known as the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. These small bodies are remnants of our early solar system, now trapped in stable orbits associated with the giant planet Jupiter, forming two “swarms” that lead in front of and trail behind Jupiter in its path around the Sun. These orbits are clustered around stable points of gravitational equilibrium known as Lagrange Points. These Trojan asteroids provide a unique, never-before-explored sample of the remnants of our early Solar System.
NASA’s research has shown that the Trojan asteroids are likely remnants of the same primordial material that formed the outer planets, and thus serve as time capsules from the birth of our Solar System over 4 billion years ago. This means that Lucy’s research could help researchers in knowing more about the origins of the Earth.
What is Lucy Space Mission
During its 12-year primary mission, Lucy will explore asteroids flying by one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids. Lucy will map the albedo, shape, crater spatial and size-frequency distributions, determine the nature of crustal structure and layering, and determine the relative ages of surface units. It will also map the color, composition and regolith properties of the surface of the Trojan asteroid and determine the distribution of minerals, ices, and organic species. In addition to this, Lucy will determine the masses and densities, and study sub-surface composition via excavation by craters, fractures, ejecta blankets, and exposed bedding.
Build your Lucy’s Time Capsule
Ahead of the launch of its Lucy Mission, NASA has invited enthusiasts to build their own Lucy Time Capsule. “Post a photo, drawing, video or other description of your Lucy Time Capsule on social media (Twitter, Facebook or Instagram) and use the hashtag #LucyTimeCapsule. If a post catches our eye, we may re-share it on our social media accounts,” NASA wrote in a blog post.
If you are an enthusiast, here are the key dates that you need to keep in mind:
-- October 15, 2022 - Lucy has its first Earth flyby and gravity assist to pick up speed.
-- December 12, 2024 - Lucy has its second Earth flyby and gravity assist, sending the spacecraft out toward the Trojan asteroids.
-- April 20, 2025 - Lucy flies by the main-belt asteroid (52246) Donald Johanson.
-- August 12, 2027 - Lucy has its first encounter with not one, but two Trojan asteroids: Eurybates (3548) and its satellite, Queta.
-- September 15, 2027 - Lucy flies by the Trojan asteroid Polymele (15094).
-- April 18, 2028 - Lucy flies by the Trojan asteroid Leucus (11351).
-- November 11, 2028 - Lucy flies by the Trojan asteroid Orus (21900) and then heads back toward Earth.
-- December 25, 2030 - Lucy has its third Earth flyby and gravity assist and then heads out toward the Trojan asteroids trailing Jupiter.
-- March 3, 2033 - Lucy flies by the binary pair Patroclus and Menoetius.
-- 2033 and beyond - Lucy continues to orbit the Sun, passing through the alternating Trojan swarms for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years!