This NASA spacecraft is on its solution to Jupiter’s mysterious asteroid swarms

Lucy will take black-and-white and shade photographs, and use a diamond beam splitter to shine far-infrared mild on the asteroids to take their temperature and make maps of their floor. It’ll additionally accumulate different measurements because it flies by. This knowledge might assist scientists perceive how the planets could have fashioned.

Sarah Dodson-Robinson, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy on the College of Delaware, says Lucy might provide a definitive time line for not solely when the planets initially fashioned, however the place.

“Should you can nail down when the Trojan asteroids fashioned, then you might have some details about when did Jupiter kind, and might begin asking questions like ‘The place did Jupiter go within the photo voltaic system?’” she says. “As a result of it wasn’t at all times the place it’s now. It’s moved round.”

And to find out the asteroids’ ages, the spacecraft will seek for floor craters which may be no larger than a soccer area. 

“[The Trojans] haven’t had almost as a lot colliding and breaking as a few of the different asteroids which can be nearer to us,” says Dodson-Robinson. “We’re probably getting a take a look at a few of these asteroids like they had been shortly after they fashioned.”

On its 4-billion-mile journey, Lucy will obtain three gravity assists from Earth, which is able to contain utilizing the planet’s gravitational power to vary the spacecraft’s trajectory with out depleting its assets. Coralie Adam, deputy navigation group chief for the Lucy mission, says every push will enhance the spacecraft’s velocity from 200 miles per hour to over 11,000 mph.

“If not for this Earth gravity help, it will take 5 instances the quantity of gas—or three metric tons—to achieve Lucy’s goal, which might make the mission unfeasible,” mentioned Adam throughout an engineering media briefing additionally held on October 14.

Lucy’s mission is slated to finish in 2033, however some NASA officers already really feel assured that the spacecraft will final far longer. “There might be a great quantity of gas left onboard,” mentioned Adam. “After the ultimate encounter with the binary asteroids, so long as the spacecraft is wholesome, we plan to suggest to NASA to do an prolonged mission and discover extra Trojans.”

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