NASA’s asteroid probe ‘LUCY’ has started a 12-year journey on the 16th (local time). According to NASA, Lucy was launched on the Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base in Florida at around 6:34 pm that evening. Courtesy of NASA
NASA’s asteroid probe ‘LUCY’ has started a 12-year journey on the 16th (local time). The mission is to uncover the secrets of the origin and evolution of the solar system by exploring Trojan asteroids.
According to NASA, Lucy was launched on the Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base in Florida at around 6:34 pm that evening. Lucy will travel a total of 6.3 billion km over 12 years, exploring eight asteroids. Lucy is the first human being to send a spacecraft to explore the Trojan asteroid.
The Lucie is equipped with telemetry equipment such as a high-resolution camera and a spectrometer and an antenna. On both sides, there are a pair of solar panels that are huge enough to cover a five-story building when unfolded. As soon as they go out into space, they plan to unfold these panels and charge them. It’s huge, but when folded, it’s only about 10cm thick.
Lucy will carry out her first exploration mission around April 2025, passing the asteroid ‘52246 Donald Johnson’ in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. From August 2027, seven of the Trojan asteroids orbiting Jupiter are expected to be explored. The first asteroid to be explored is ‘3548 Euribates’. After exploring the Trojans in front of Jupiter between 2027 and 2028, they approach Earth and then move away again.
It is known that Lucy takes 12 years to complete the mission, but only 24 hours to actually explore the asteroid. After approaching the Trojan asteroid as close as 400 km, Lucy flies at a speed of 5 to 9 km per second, and uses telemetry equipment to investigate the asteroid’s constituent materials, mass, density, and size. In order to approach the asteroid, Lucy approaches Earth three times and performs a gravity-assisted flight that accelerates using the Earth’s gravity. Lucy will also be recorded as the first spacecraft to return near Earth from outside the solar system.
There are more than 10,000 Trojan asteroids. It orbits the Sun in front of and behind Jupiter while being caught at the Lagrange point, the point where the gravity of the Sun and Jupiter is in balance and is virtually zero. NASA scientists view these asteroids as remnants of the solar system’s planets forming process. It is also estimated to be in a pristine state that has hardly changed over the past 4.5 billion years. As such, it is highly likely that important clues about the early evolution of the solar system remain here. It is expected that the Lucy expedition will be of great help in uncovering the origin and evolution of planets in the solar system, and the process by which organic matter and life on Earth were formed.
The name ‘Lucy’ is derived from Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis), famous for being the first human fossil. Lucy was named after the Beatles’ song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ when they excavated this fossil, which was buried 3.2 million years ago, in Ethiopia in 1974. NASA scientists said, “Just as we have learned a lot about human evolution through this fossil, we hope that the asteroid rover Lucy will also reveal the origin and evolution of the solar system.”
Lucy plans to explore seven asteroids in the Trojan Army. This animation depicts planets and Trojan asteroids orbiting the sun. Mercury (brown), Venus (white), Earth (blue), Mars (red), Jupiter (orange), and Trojan asteroids (green) orbit in the same orbit before and behind Jupiter. Courtesy of NASA