NASA's Lucy mission spacecraft will fly by asteroid Dinikinesh for the first time
NASA's Lucy mission is set to carry out its first flyby of the asteroid Dinikinesh today, November 1, as an engineering test to keep the asteroid within the science instruments' fields of view.
Asteroids have posed a threat to Earth with their close approaches throughout history. While most of these ancient space rocks have passed the planet at close proximity, a few of them have impacted Earth, altering the course of history itself. Perhaps the most famous asteroid impact in history is the asteroid which struck Earth 65 million years ago and kicked off the extinction of dinosaurs. Therefore, it is imperative that we discover and study these space rocks up close to minimize any uncertainties around their close approaches and predict any potential impact. This is where NASA's Lucy mission comes in.
What is Lucy mission?
To understand asteroids better, and study the ones not located in the asteroid belt, NASA launched its Lucy mission on October 16, 2021, from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is aimed at studying the Trojans, a group of asteroids that orbit the Sun in two groups (or swarms), according to NASA. It is built to seek out trojan asteroids millions of kilometers from Earth. Earlier this year, the Lucy spacecraft caught a glimpse of its first Trojan asteroid, Dinikinesh, which is about half a kilometer wide.
NASA has now announced that the Lucy spacecraft will carry out its first flyby of Dinikinesh today, November 1. It will be the first visit to an asteroid during Lucy's 12-year journey. But what is the purpose of this approach? NASA says that it will be an engineering test to test systems and procedures that are designed to keep the asteroid within the science instruments' fields of view as the spacecraft flies past at speeds greater than 16000 kilometers per hour.
While this will be Lucy's mission first-ever asteroid approach, it has already made an amazing discovery. In August last year, it discovered a Trojan asteroid around Jupiter called Polymele that has its own satellite. To observe this, the Lucy Mission team were planning to study the occultation of the star as the asteroid passed around it.
Then in October, the spacecraft completed a slingshot manoeuvre to gain momentum as it headed for the unknown in a bid to search and study Trojan asteroids. During this manoeuvre, it came as close as 350 kilometers above Earth and was visible from the planet's surface. Shortly after, it captured a few snapshots of the Moon to calibrate its equipment properly.
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