NASA launches robotic archaeologist Lucy on ambitious mission to Trojan asteroids

Asia's Tech News Daily

© Provided by Space A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Lucy asteroid-exploring spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida before dawn on Oct. 16, 2021.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s newest asteroid probe, named Lucy, blasted off from Kennedy Space Center here in Florida to embark on a 12-year mission to study two different clusters of asteroids around Jupiter known as Trojans. 

These swarms represent the final unexplored regions of asteroids in the solar system. Lucy, acting as a robotic archaeologist, will help to answer questions about how the giant planets formed. 

Perched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, the refrigerator-sized spacecraft lit up the predawn skies above Cape Canaveral as it leapt off its launch pad right on time at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT) Saturday morning (Oct. 16). Just under two hours after launch, NASA confirmed Lucy’s solar arrays had deployed and it had successfully phoned home.

Related: Meet the 8 asteroids NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will visit

Lucy will spend the next six years cruising through the solar system, looping around the Earth twice in order to build up enough momentum to reach Jupiter. The spacecraft will fly by a total of eight different asteroids (seven Trojans, which are located in two separate swarms, ahead of and behind the massive planet in its orbit, and one main belt) in order to help scientists better understand how the solar system evolved. Researchers believe that the Trojans are perfectly preserved cosmic time capsules and hope that studying them could shed more light on the origin of the solar system and how the giant planets formed. 

“The reason why [the Trojans] are important scientifically is that they were essentially leftovers,” Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, told Space.com.

Believed to be fragments of the early solar system, the Trojans are gravitationally locked in stable orbits at the same distance from the sun as Jupiter. With the help of a suite of scientific instruments, Lucy will study the geology, composition, density and structure of each of its Trojan targets.

To date, space agencies around the world have explored a variety of small bodies from the asteroid belt to near-Earth asteroids (using projects like Japan’s Hayabusa mission and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx) to the icy expanse of the Kuiper belt. 

But one area remains unexplored: the Trojan swarms around Jupiter. Approximately 10,000 objects have been discovered in these two regions ranging from a few kilometers across to hundreds of kilometers in diameter. First spotted more than a century ago, astronomers at the time were naming the objects after heroes in Homer’s Iliad, earning the region’s inhabitants the name “Trojans.” 

Lucy in the sky

The mission is named “Lucy” as a nod to the 3.2 million-year-old hominin skeleton discovered in 1974 by a paleoanthropologist named Donald Johanson. At the time, the skeleton was the oldest and most complete hominin discovered and it revealed some secrets of human evolution. NASA named its newest spacecraft Lucy because it hopes that the robotic probe can help unlock some secrets of solar system evolution.

“I will never look at Jupiter the same,” Johanson said after watching the Lucy mission launch from Florida.  “To be out here this morning was absolutely mind-expanding, and it was such a positive experience.”

“You know, the world is going through some tribulations, something as positive as this people should look at and see what the creativity of the human mind can do,” Johanson continued in a live NASA interview. “And there it is, she’s on her way and she will tell us so much. I just had goosebumps.”

The Lucy fossil got its name from the Beatles’ famous tune, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which was playing at the campsite at the time of the fossil’s discovery. As such, the spacecraft is carrying a plaque with some of the song lyrics, along with lyrics from other songs by the Beatles and by other artists. 

In 2025, Lucy will reach its first target: a small asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter named for Johanson (Asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson). The spacecraft will test its sensors on the small asteroid as a practice run before its main mission: flying by seven different Trojan asteroids, ranging in size from a tiny moon to a large binary asteroid.

Planetary conundrum

Early theories as to how the solar system formed envisioned a star in the center of a rotating disk of protoplanetary material. Gradually, the material would condense and collect in clumps to form the planets. 

But when planetary scientist Hal Levison tried to simulate this, he kept running into a problem: the orbits of Uranus and Neptune did not match up. It was impossible to build these two giant planets in their current orbits. So, Levison tweaked his simulation and developed a new model called the Nice model of solar system evolution, which suggests that the giant planets formed much closer to the sun.

Thanks to the increasingly eccentric orbits of young Jupiter and Saturn, the solar system was rearranged and Neptune and Uranus were kicked out of place and flung into the outer solar system. As they migrated outward, they scattered the small bodies of the solar system. Comets and asteroids were flung to the deep outer solar system, and some were even ejected out of the solar system and into the Milky Way.

As this was happening, a small set of the scattered asteroids were trapped by Jupiter’s gravitational tractor beam and locked in an orbital dance at two of Jupiter’s permanent Lagrange points, which are regions of space where the gravitational and orbital influences of the planet and the sun are balanced. 

These regions, known as Trojan swarms, both lead and trail Jupiter in its orbit. The asteroids that are trapped in these two different swarms are believed to be the bits and pieces of the giant planets leftover after their formation. 

“Surprisingly, the Trojans are all physically very different from one another but together, occupy a really small region of space,” Levison said. “That diverse population in such a small region is telling us something important about the early evolution of the solar system.”

Levison said the team just needs to unlock those secrets. Lucy was chosen to do just that. It was selected to fly in 2014 as part of NASA’s Discovery program, which allows scientists to compete for smaller mission proposals. 

Lucy is equipped with multiple cameras that will image each of its targets in multiple wavelengths in order to analyze geophysical properties. For instance, by counting and measuring the number of craters on the surface of these asteroids, scientists can determine how old an asteroid is. (The older an asteroid’s surface is, the more craters will be present.) 

Scientists will also analyze the color of the asteroids’ surfaces, which can provide some insight into what the rocks are made of. Together with thermal measurements and infrared spectra, scientists are hoping to pinpoint the composition of each asteroid. NASA is especially interested in the notion of finding primordial organic material on asteroids because billions of years ago, this material may have seeded Earth with the chemical ingredients necessary for life thanks to asteroid impacts.

Each asteroid encounter will be at an altitude of 600 miles (970 km) or less from the Trojan’s surface. And after the final flyby, if the spacecraft is in good health, NASA could green light an extended mission and target future asteroids or other celestial objects for further analysis.

Solar-powered spacecraft

During its 12-year mission, Lucy will rely on two giant solar arrays, which will expand outward like folding fans shortly after launch. Its unique looping trajectory will carry it farther from the sun than any solar-powered spacecraft has ever flown before. 

The design is based on the same design that currently powers the InSight Mars lander, only much larger. The solar panels will provide about 500 watts of power while the spacecraft is flying past the Trojan asteroids, Katie Oakman, Lucy structures and mechanisms lead at Lockheed Martin Space, which built the spacecraft, said during a news conference held on Thursday (Oct. 14).

Lucy will soar through Jovian Lagrange points and swinging back around Earth multiple times. In fact, team members say that Lucy could thrive in this loop-to-loop trajectory for as long as its onboard fuel reserves last. As such, the agency has equipped Lucy with a “time capsule” of poetry, quotes and song lyrics, in the hope that one day far in the future, space-faring humans might recover the spacecraft and discover Lucy’s treasure trove of information on what life was like in the 21st century.

Levison says that when Lucy has visited all of its targets and sent back all the data, he hopes that the team is able to determine where the Trojans formed. If data suggests that they formed in different places at different distances from the sun and were then swept into their current orbits, it would line up with his theory of solar system formation.

But that might not be what happens. If the team discovers something unexpected, Levison said that would be a very good thing. “My hope will be to look at the current models of solar system formation — including my own work — and discover that it wasn’t as simple as we thought and that we have to start over from scratch,” he said. 

Ride to space

Lucy’s liftoff marked the 100th launch from ULA’s facilities at Space Launch 41 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. It’s also the 89th launch of an Atlas V, and the 146th overall launch for ULA since its formation in 2006.

The rocket used in Saturday’s flight is the most basic version of an Atlas V, called a 401 configuration. For this vehicle, the rocket features a 4-meter payload fairing, a single-engine Centaur upper stage and no solid rocket boosters. 

It was originally slated to carry a different payload: Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule. That spacecraft was slated to blast off in August, but was forced to stand down after a series of valves in the craft’s propulsion system were stuck shut. Starliner was ferried back to Boeing’s factory for engineers to troubleshoot the anomaly, while its rocket was stripped of its dual-engine Centaur upper stage in favor of the single engine version needed to launch Lucy. 

Starliner will not be able to launch now until sometime in 2022 due to traffic at the International Space Station and other payloads, namely Lucy, that needed to go ahead and launch. Plus the teams still need to figure out what’s going on with those pesky propulsion valves. 

Up next for ULA is the launch of a rideshare mission called STP-3. It will blast off sometime in November, carrying payloads for the U.S. Space Force. 

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

Internet Explorer Channel Network
Asia's Tech News Daily
News Related

OTHER NEWS

Mobile game spending in 2021 to reach $89.6billion globally: Report

San Francisco: Mobile game spending has continued to grow in 2021 and will reach $89.6 billion from across the App Store and Google Play globally.While the category is still climbing ... Read more »

10 Words And Names You've (Probably) Been Mispronouncing In 2021

(Photo: PeopleImages via Getty Images/iStockphoto) You might have learned the meaning of “cheugy” this year, but do you know how to say it? The term – which can be used ... Read more »

Apple Watch 8 could be joined by two other wearables and the iPhone SE 3

2022 could be a busy year for Apple, and not just because of the iPhone 14 range with all its rumored changes, as Apple might additionally have three new wearables ... Read more »

Google Drive update will force you to clean up your mess of files and folders

Google will soon roll out an update for its cloud storage service Drive that should help minimize clutter and confusion caused by files holsted in multiple locations. In 2020, the ... Read more »

Early data suggests omicron could partially evade even booster jabs

A wealth of laboratory data showing the extent to which the new variant can escape antibodies has been published in the last 24 hours. – Yui Mok/PA Wire The omicron ... Read more »

Byju'S acquires maths learning platform GeoGebra

New Delhi: With an aim to make maths learning more visual and interactive, edtech unicorn BYJU’s on Wednesday announced that it has acquired Austria-headquartered GeoGebra for an undisclosed sum.BYJU’s said ... Read more »

Twitter acquires messaging app Quill

Twitter has acquired Slack-like messaging app Quill for an undisclosed amount to improve efficient messaging communication.Quill is a messaging app for collaboration and communication with teams. It will help Twitter ... Read more »

Disgruntled neighbors and dwindling shorebirds jeopardize SpaceX expansion

Explosions, noise and beach closings have disrupted the peace and harmed wildlife in Boca Chica, Texas, residents and environmentalists say. Read more »

AMD could follow Intel and switch to hybrid CPUs

AMD could be planning on bringing in hybrid processors – chips that mix different types of cores in the same vein as Intel’s Alder Lake – or that’s the suggestion ... Read more »

Redmi Note 11 4G variant expected to launch in India soon: Expected price and features

NEW DELHI: Xiaomi recently launched its Redmi Note 11T 5G smartphone in India. Now a new online report suggests that the Chinese smartphone maker will launch the 4G variant of ... Read more »

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Part 1: release date, trailer, cast, plot and more

Finally, after three years of waiting, we’re getting a sequel to the critically acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie. Or should that be two sequels? Yes, you heard us right ... Read more »

Did Hans Zimmer really own the first-ever pair of AirPods Max headphones?

Film composer Hans Zimmer is one of the most revered names working in Hollywood today, so it’s no surprise to learn that he’s often sent very important packages from very ... Read more »

Dyson Ball Animal 2 review

One-minute review Dyson is a stalwart of the floor cleaning market, having launched its first vacuum cleaner in 2010. It now offers a wide range of vacuums from which you ... Read more »

Hawkeye episode 4's big cameo isn't the one you think it is

Major spoilers follow for Hawkeye episode 4. You’ve been warned. Hawkeye episode 4 has arrived on Disney Plus – and fans have been treated to a major cameo appearance from ... Read more »

Amazon's smart thermostat is down to its lowest price ever - just two months after launching

Amazon has slashed 20% off the price of its new smart thermostat in the US, reducing it from $69.99 to just $47.99. This is a new record-low price for the ... Read more »

Anker's top-rated noise-canceling wireless headphones are on sale for $60 — an all-time low — just for today at Amazon

We may receive commission from purchases made via links on this page. Pricing and availability are subject to change. Pretty in pink…and just 60 bucks. (Photo: Amazon) Noise-canceling wireless headphones ... Read more »

Apple starts to rolls of Release Candidate version of iOS 15.2: Here's everything you need to know

A week after releasing the fourth beta update of iOS 15.2, Apple has started to roll out the Release Candidate version of iOS 15.2 for testing purposes. For those who ... Read more »

Ptron Bassbuds Tango true wireless earbuds launched in India: Price, features and more

NEW DELHI: The earwear category showed impressive growth in the third quarter and Ptron retained its fifth position as its shipments grew 81.9% during the quarter. In order to further ... Read more »

Amid omicron fears, S. Korea expands entry ban to 2 additional African countries

SEOUL, Dec. 8 (Yonhap) — South Korea expanded its entry ban to two additional African countries Wednesday amid growing concerns over the fast-spreading omicron coronavirus variant. From Friday to next ... Read more »

Best MDM solutions in 2021

The best mobile device management software makes it simple and easy to manage security across all of your mobile devices. Managing a fleet of devices across multiple departmental disciplines is ... Read more »

Becoming a new parent is challenging – and fathers need support too

Postnatal depression can affect both mothers and fathers. Prostock-studio/ Shutterstock Becoming a new father can be a difficult and overwhelming time. And more and more, we’re hearing about the mental ... Read more »

OnePlus will likely be at CES 2022, but we don't expect the OnePlus 10

The next big show in tech is CES 2022 in January, and a new leaked invite suggests that we’ll see some upcoming devices from OnePlus at the big event. The ... Read more »

‘Fortnite' Season 3: Epic Games announces transition to Unreal Engine 5 for battle royale game

Photo credit: Fortnite / YouTube screenshot “Fortnite” players anticipated the start of Chapter 3 to be a major event, mostly for the new updates and content coming to the game. ... Read more »

Razer built this ‘cool' MagSafe accessory for iPhone gamers

Ever since Apple added MagSafe charging with the iPhone 12, there has been no shortage of both first-party or third-party MagSafe accessories. The latest one comes from Razer and it ... Read more »

Is Google Calendar down?

Refresh 2021-12-08T09:38:14.474Z Be free, workers! Some are taking the outage on a lighter note, such as Twitter user @jerelleaj, who celebrates that they must “have nothing planned for today”. Performance ... Read more »

Instagram launches ‘Take a Break' and announces upcoming parental controls a day before CEO's US Senate testimony

Photo credit: Obi Onyeador / Unsplash A day before Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri appeared before the United States Senate to testify on Wednesday, the company launched the “Take a Break” feature designed to ... Read more »

Twitter tests a reporting system overhaul that uses a ‘symptoms-first' approach

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash Social media networks can be some of the most toxic places to be on the internet. While these platforms have reporting systems in place, users often find ... Read more »

Realme GT 2 will launch surprisingly early

December is usually a quiet month for smartphone news, but December 2021 definitely isn’t – case in point, the Realme GT 2 Pro is launching on the 9th day of ... Read more »

‘Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves' release date: Remastered bundle to launch in January, Sony reveals graphics updates

From the “Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves” trailer | Photo credit: PlayStation / YouTube screenshot Naughty Dog’s latest “Uncharted” games are the first to get official remasters with significant graphics updates ... Read more »

Apple says it is looking into iPhone call drop issue

SEOUL, Dec. 8 (Yonhap) — Apple Inc. said Wednesday it is looking into the dropped call issue on iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 devices as users continued to complain of ... Read more »

Russians launch Japanese billionaire on visit to space station

A Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket climbs away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying a veteran cosmonaut and two Japanese space tourists on a flight to the International Space Station. ... Read more »

Amazon is bringing Smart Home Dashboard and several new features to Fire TV

Amazon is adding new features and functionalities to its Fire TV streaming devices and Fire OS powered smart TVs. The most notable feature is the new Smart Home Dashboard which ... Read more »

Asiana postpones plans to resume Guam route amid omicron variant concerns

SEOUL, Dec. 8 (Yonhap) — Asiana Airlines Inc., South Korea’s second-biggest carrier, said Wednesday it has scrapped plans to resume flights to Guam in December, in response to the spread ... Read more »

S. Korea, Denmark agree to boost cooperation on polar issues

SEOUL, Dec. 8 (Yonhap) — South Korea and Denmark agreed to enhance cooperation on research and development of polar regions, Seoul’s oceans ministry said Wednesday. South Korea’s Oceans and Fisheries ... Read more »

Xbox series X UK stock - live: Who could restock Microsoft's console before Christmas?

More retailers are expected to drop this week (iStock/The Independent) The Xbox series X launched a full year ago, quickly becoming Microsoft’s best-selling console. But despite its success the next-generation ... Read more »

Microsoft announces Azure Cloud availability zones in central India

Microsoft India on Wednesday announced new Azure availability zones in its central India data centre region, providing additional resiliency and redundancy for customer workloads on its cloud.Azure availability zones are ... Read more »

5G rollout should be nation's priority: Mukesh Ambani

Industrialist Mukesh Ambani, who controls India’s biggest wireless carrier Reliance Jio Infocomm, said on Wednesday the country should prioritise the rollout of 5G telecommunications and also ensure devices become affordable.India, ... Read more »

Australia proposes new laws to regulate crypto, BNPL

Australia will create a licencing framework for cryptocurrency exchanges and consider launching a retail central bank digital currency as part of the biggest overhaul of its A$650 billion-a-day ($463 billion) ... Read more »

Facebook-owner Meta says it will skill 1 crore small businesses, 2,50,000 creators in India

Meta (formerly Facebook) on Wednesday said it aims to skill 1 crore small businesses and 2,50,000 creators over the next three years in the country through its Centre for Fuelling ... Read more »

Liverpool complete historic clean sweep as AC Milan are dumped out

AC Milan vs Liverpool live, Champions League: score and latest updates – GETTY IMAGES Milan took the lead via Tomori before Salah swiftly struck back Origi continued his good form, ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic