NASA to launch Mission Lucy this week to study Jupiter Trojan asteroids: Everything to know

By: |
October 11, 2021 8:20 PM

It is estimated that the mission, which will be powered by solar energy, will run for 12 years.

Lucy is set to be launched on October 16. (Artist impression: Southwest Research Institute via NASA)

Jupiter Trojan asteroids: NASA’s Lucy mission is set to be launched this week and the scientific community is excited as this would mark the first spacecraft to explore the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. It is believed that the asteroids are remnants of the early solar system. Scientists are of the view that studying these asteroids could help in understanding the origin and evolution of the solar system and the reason behind it having taken its current form and shape. It is estimated that the mission, which will be powered by solar energy, will run for 12 years and during this time, it would visit eight asteroids spread over a distance of a whopping 6.3 billion kilometers.

Also read | Nuclear bombing to protect Earth from asteroids? Why not, say scientists

Why did NASA name the mission Lucy?

According to the US Space Agency, the mission has been named after ‘Lucy’, the fossilised human ancestor. The 3.2 million-year-old skeleton had let scientists get unique insights into the evolution of humanity. NASA believes that similar insights would be provided about the formation of the solar system and the origin of the planets by this mission, and hence it has been named Lucy.

Lucy’s launch and other mission details

Lucy is set to be launched on October 16, ie, the coming Saturday, and it will take off from Florida-based Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. An Atlas V 401 rocket would carry the spacecraft to space, where it would fly by the Earth twice to use the planet’s gravitational field as leverage for the next leg of its journey towards the asteroids.

The first asteroid that the mission would encounter would be in the main asteroid belt found between Mars and Jupiter, and then it would encounter seven Trojan asteroids. Trojan asteroids are those that share an orbit with a larger planet, which means that they are not a part of the main asteroid belt in the solar system. In our solar system, NASA has reported that Jupiter, Mars and Neptune Trojan asteroids exist, and an Earth Trojan was also reported in 2011. Seven of these Jupiter Trojan asteroids would be studied by Mission Lucy.

During the mission, Lucy would come back to the Earth thrice to take assistance from the planet’s gravitational field, and this would make it the first-ever spacecraft to return to Earth’s vicinity from the outer solar system, NASA said.

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