The NASA Lucy mission, launched in October 2021, has reached a significant milestone with its first encounter with a space rock.
The spacecraft completed a flyby of the small asteroid Dinkinesh, representing a crucial step in its 12-year journey.
During its flyby of the asteroid Dinkinesh, Lucy came within 265 miles (425 kilometers) of its surface, marking a historic event in space exploration.
The data and images collected during this encounter will be transmitted to Earth over several days.
Lucy’s Historic Encounter with Dinkinesh
Dinkinesh, the space rock in question, is approximately half a mile (1 kilometer) wide and resides within the primary asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
The program, Dinkinesh, has mainly been unobservable until now.
Lucy’s primary objective is to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid swarms, a topic that has never been studied in detail.
These Trojan asteroids, named after Greek mythology, orbit the sun in two hives, one leading and one trailing Jupiter.
However, they have remained enigmatic due to their remote location, making detailed observations impossible until now.
The close approach to Dinkinesh allowed the Lucy spacecraft to test its suite of equipment.
Furthermore, the data gathered during this encounter will help scientists understand the potential connections between larger main belt asteroids and more minor near-Earth asteroids, some of which could threaten our planet.
Dinkinesh is the first of ten asteroids that Lucy will fly by during its journey.
Rather than orbiting each asteroid, Lucy will conduct flybys at about 10,000 miles per hour (4.5 kilometers per second).
Lucy’s mission extends beyond Dinkinesh, as it plans to fly by another main belt asteroid, Donaldjohanson, in 2025 before reaching the Trojan asteroids in 2027.
Each of these asteroids varies in size and color, and the data collected will provide valuable insights into the formation of our solar system.
The Lucy mission comes from the famous Lucy fossil, a prehistoric human ancestor discovered in Ethiopia in 1974.
Similarly to how the Lucy fossil has aided our understanding of human evolution, the NASA Lucy mission aims to shed light on the history of our solar system.
With approximately 7,000 Trojan asteroids, each with its unique characteristics, this mission will offer a rare opportunity to peer back in time and learn how our solar system, including the positions of the planets, formed 4.5 billion years ago.
This endeavor may unlock critical insights into the ancient past of our cosmic neighborhood.