- NASA’s Lucy mission will launch from Florida on Saturday at 05:34 ET (10:34 BST)
- In 12 years it will study a group of asteroids that share an orbit with Jupiter
- These ancient asteroids are ‘time capsules from the birth of the solar system’
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft is set to launch tomorrow morning, starting its hugely ambitious 12-year journey through the solar system.
The craft is to explode Saturday at 05:34 ET (10:34 BST) on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Over the next dozen years, it will perform a fly-by of the Jupiter Trojans, a large group of asteroids that share the planet Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun.
The $981 million (£715 million) mission takes its name from the famous fossil human ancestor, nicknamed ‘Lucy’ by his discoveries, whose skeletons provided unique insights into our evolution.
The fossil remains were named in reference to a 1967 Beatles song, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, which is known for its psychedelic, otherworldly imagery.
The Lucy spacecraft also has a plaque containing quotes from Carl Sagan, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein and all four members of the Beatles.
NASA’s Lucy mission will launch this week, beginning a 12-year journey through the solar system that will include a swing-by of eight different Jupiter-orbiting asteroids
According to NASA, the plaque will act as a ‘time capsule’, which can be read by humans in the distant future.
After Lucy visited a record number of asteroids for a mission in 2033 (eight asteroids in six independent orbits around the Sun) the Lucy spacecraft traveled between Trojan asteroids and Earth’s orbit for at least hundreds of thousands. Will continue ‘If not millions of years,’ NASA explains.
‘It’s easy to imagine that someday in the distant future our descendants will find Lucy floating among the planets.
NASA’s Lucy mission to the Trojan asteroids, which orbit Jupiter, will bring a plaque that will act as a ‘time-capsule’, featuring images from Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein, The Beatles and more.
Eight asteroids sighted by Lucy
Lucy will visit eight asteroids during its 12-year mission, starting with one of the main asteroid belts beyond Mars.
It is known as Donaldjohansson and will be visited in April 2025.
The seven Trojan asteroids are named after characters from Greek mythology.
They are Eurybates, Quetta, Polymel, Lucas, Orus, Patroclus and Menoetius.
Most of the mission’s visits will take place in 2027 and 2028; Its last planned flyby will be in March 2033.
‘Therefore, the Lucy team opted to place a time-capsule on the Lucy spacecraft as a plaque, this time with a message not to unknown aliens, but to those who would come after us.’
There’s a three-week launch window for Lucy, but the team expects to be able to go on Saturday morning, as is currently scheduled.
Once launched, Lucy will fly twice around Earth to adjust its trajectory to the Sun and take it to the outer reaches of the Solar System.
Its first asteroid visit will take place in April 2025, when it will take a look at a main-belt asteroid named Donald Johansson.
Meanwhile the first Trojan asteroid flyby won’t happen until the next two years, when Lucy gets closer to Jupiter in August 2027.
Most of the asteroid visits will take place in 2027 and 2028, with the last asteroid flyby scheduled for March 2033.
During her 12-year-long mission, Lucy will travel about 4 billion miles in orbit around Jupiter, back to Earth and back again, as the probe needs Earth’s ‘gravitational assistance’ to change direction and position in space. it occurs. .
The Lucy spacecraft has solar panels on each side to help power its instruments and is 51.8 feet wide and more than 46 feet from tip to tip.
Trojan asteroids are known as the ‘fossils’ of the early Solar System because they are composed of ancient material that was around the time the planets were formed.
It will detect seven of the Trojan asteroids, which have been called the ‘fossils’ of the Solar System, as well as one asteroid in the main belt.
The seven main Trojan asteroids are named after characters from Greek mythology – Euribetes, Quetta, Polymel, Lucus, Orus, Patroclus and Menoetius – and are trapped in two gravitationally stable bands orbiting Jupiter with the Sun.
The band in front of Jupiter is called L4 and the one behind it is known as L5.
Of the 4,800 known Trojan asteroids, 65 percent are in the L4 group, and the other 35 percent are in the L5 group.
This diagram shows Lucy’s orbital path. The spacecraft’s trajectory (green) is shown in a frame of reference where Jupiter remains stationary, giving the trajectory a pretzel-like shape. After launch, Lucy has two close-Earth flybys before encountering her Trojan targets.
Tools on Board Lucy
Lucy will cover a distance of more than 46 feet (14 m) from tip to tip, but most of that is giant solar panels.
Each panel is over 24 feet (about 7 meters) in diameter.
These are needed to power Lucy as it flies into Jupiter’s orbit.
Lucy Thermal Emission Spectrometer (L’TES)
This is an instrument manufactured by Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.
It will measure the surface temperature of asteroids by looking at the infrared spectrum.
Doing so will help astronomers understand the physical properties of surface materials.
Lucy Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (L’LORRI)
This is a high resolution, panchromatic visualization camera built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
L’LORRI will provide the most detailed images of the surface of Trojan asteroids.
It is an instrument provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
It consists of two parts:
L’Ralph Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array…