Nasa sends Lucy probe on 12-year mission to explore asteroids around Jupiter

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Lucy will explore the asteroids clustered around Jupiter – NASA

Nasa is sending a spacecraft deep into the solar system this weekend to explore seven asteroids clustered around Jupiter.

The uncrewed spacecraft, called Lucy, will be launched from Cape Canaveral on a mission that is expected to take 12 years.

It will visit eight different asteroids, known as Trojans.

The asteroids were given their name by the astronomer who first calculated the orbits they followed.

Formed around 4.5 billion years ago, the Trojans are believed to be leftovers from the formation of the solar system.

Having been trapped in a stable orbit for billions of years, the asteroids could prove invaluable to researchers.

“We’ve studied a lot of asteroids and comets, and they all paint certain parts of the picture,” Bill Bottke, a member of the team behind the mission, told The Verge.

“But the Trojans, we think, paint another part of the picture — but we’re not sure what part yet.”

Such a mission does not come cheap and the voyage will cost an estimated $981 million (£714 million).

Travelling at an average speed of 39,000 miles an hour, the 52-foot long probe visit asteroid Donaldjohansen in the Main Belt before reaching the Trojans.

Fitted with a powerful camera – known as a long-range reconnaissance imager – Lucy will be able to capture high-resolution pictures of the asteroids.

It is also fitted with instruments to map the surface geology of each asteroid.

The digital launch clock in Cape Canaveral is ready to go – REUTERS

In addition, the craft has been fitted with a plaque containing messages from 20th-century thinkers including Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, and Carl Sagan.

The spacecraft has been named after “Lucy” a skeleton of a pre-human ancestor, which was found 40 per cent intact in Ethiopia.

Scientists believe that Lucy helped them understand human evolution.

It was given the name as a tribute to the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – which is particularly apt for this weekend’s mission.

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