Q&A: Lucy mission launches to study ancient Trojan asteroids

Asia's Tech News Daily

Project scientist Professor Richard Binzel discusses NASA’s latest interplanetary mission, which is co-led by Cathy Olkin ’88, PhD ’96.

Asteroids, Solar System, NASA, Space exploration, Faculty, Interview, Satellites, Alumni/ae, EAPS, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Science, School of Engineering, Lucy spacecraft, Cathy Olkin, Richard Binzel

Through imaging and spectral mapping, NASA's Lucy mission will give scientists the first close-up view of the topography and chemical composition of the Trojan asteroids, which could offer insights into the chemistry of the early solar system. Image courtesy of Southwest Research Institute.

Asteroids, Solar System, NASA, Space exploration, Faculty, Interview, Satellites, Alumni/ae, EAPS, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Science, School of Engineering, Lucy spacecraft, Cathy Olkin, Richard Binzel

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Lucy spacecraft aboard is seen in this 2 minute and 30 second exposure photograph as it launches from Space Launch Complex 41, on Oct. 16 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Like the mission's namesake — the fossilized human ancestor, “Lucy,” whose skeleton provided unique insight into humanity's evolution — Lucy will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

Asteroids, Solar System, NASA, Space exploration, Faculty, Interview, Satellites, Alumni/ae, EAPS, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Science, School of Engineering, Lucy spacecraft, Cathy Olkin, Richard Binzel

MIT Professor Richard Binzel is a scientist on the Lucy mission. Image courtesy of Richard Binzel.

Asteroids, Solar System, NASA, Space exploration, Faculty, Interview, Satellites, Alumni/ae, EAPS, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Science, School of Engineering, Lucy spacecraft, Cathy Olkin, Richard Binzel

Cathy Olkin ’88, PhD ’96, a graduate of both the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, is the deputy principal investigator of the Lucy mission. Photo via Cathy Olkin/Twitter

Asteroids, Solar System, NASA, Space exploration, Faculty, Interview, Satellites, Alumni/ae, EAPS, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Science, School of Engineering, Lucy spacecraft, Cathy Olkin, Richard Binzel

This diagram illustrates Lucy's orbital path. The spacecraft’s path (green) is shown in a frame of reference where Jupiter remains stationary, giving the trajectory its pretzel-like shape. After launch in October 2021, Lucy has two close Earth flybys before encountering its Trojan targets. Image courtesy of Southwest Research Institute.

On Saturday morning, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, beginning a 12-year, nearly 4-billion-mile mission to explore some of the oldest objects in the solar system. Named after the famous Australopithecus fossil “Lucy,” the spacecraft will make two slingshot trips around Earth before heading toward a cluster of asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit, called the Trojan asteroids. These are believed to be nearly as old as the solar system itself.

Through imaging and spectral mapping, the spacecraft will give scientists the first close-up view of the topography and chemical composition of the Trojan asteroids, which could offer insights into the chemistry of the early solar system, how the planets formed, and the origin of the organic molecules that enable life.

Cathy Olkin ’88, PhD ’96, who received her bachelor’s degree from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) and her doctorate degree from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), is second-in-command as the deputy principal investigator on the mission. While she was busy preparing the spacecraft for launch, project scientist Richard Binzel, professor of planetary sciences in EAPS with a joint appointment in AeroAstro, described the goals of the Lucy mission.

Q: What are the roots of the Lucy mission? And how long has it taken to get to this moment?

A: The Lucy mission itself has been about a five-year effort to go from the first proposal to the launch pad. But the story goes back many decades, trying to understand these objects out at the distance of Jupiter that we call the Trojan asteroids. They’re asteroids that are stuck in a gravitational tug of war between the sun and Jupiter itself at what we call the Lagrange points, where the gravitational tug of the sun is equal to the gravitational tug of Jupiter. Once something falls into that zone, they’re stable forever. So we think the Trojan asteroids are some of the earliest pieces of the formation of our solar system — we call them fossils of the solar system. And that’s why we named the mission Lucy, after the Australopithecus fossil.

We think the Trojan asteroids date back to the very beginning of our solar system 4.56 billion years ago, which is older than any sample we can get from the Earth and any sample we’ve ever brought back from the moon. By studying the Trojan asteroids, we think we will be looking at some of the earliest pieces of the building blocks of planets.

Q: What are some of the outstanding questions that the Lucy mission expects to help answer?

A: We would like to know what the chemistry of the early solar system, particularly the organics, was like. Where did the organics, basically the carbon of life, come from? What was its earliest form? The Trojan asteroids are special because at Jupiter’s distance most of the early chemistry is still literally frozen in time as it would have been at the beginning of our solar system. Their location further from the sun is colder than it is compared to the Earth, so essentially we think we are looking at pieces that have been frozen in time, not only in physical form but also chemically, since the very beginning.

For example, we think the earliest forms of water might be preserved in these objects. Once an object in space comes in close to the sun, about the Earth’s distance, any water present begins to evaporate. But we think the Trojan asteroids have been cold enough that the original water they might contain is still there, frozen, intact, and ready for us to explore and evaluate.

Q: What will the spacecraft’s life look like from launch until it completes its mission?

A: Lucy is on an amazing race track across the solar system to visit the Trojan asteroids.  

About a year from now, it will swing by the Earth to pick up a little bit of velocity. And then it does another Earth swing-by in late 2024. And that last swing-by of the Earth will put it on a path out towards the Trojan asteroids. We have to build up speed and momentum to get that far away, so we use Earth’s gravity to assist.

We will be out in the asteroid belt by 2025. First we will go by a small asteroid named “Donald Johanson.” Donald Johanson discovered the Lucy Australopithecus fossil, and when an MIT graduate student discovered this unnamed asteroid on our flight path, we were able to get it named after him.

Then, when we pass by Donald Johansen in the main belt, we will finally reach the Trojan asteroid six years from now, in August 2027. We are in one of the clouds of Trojan asteroids. These are in orbit, 60 degrees in front, and 60 degrees in the back of Jupiter. And we’ll be in the leading group of Trojan asteroids, something we call the L4 Lagrange point, in 2027. We have two encounters in 2027, a third encounter in April 2028, and a fourth encounter in November 2028. And then in 2030, we swing back around the Earth, to go to the other side of Jupiter. We get to the cloud on the other side of Jupiter in 2033.

So, if you look at a map of the trajectory of the Lucy spacecraft, it is on a wild and crazy ride to get to both sides of Jupiter over the next 13 years or so.

Each of these objects is like a time capsule. And we’d like to see just how far back each time capsule is pushing our knowledge and understanding of how the Earth and planets came to be.

Q: How do you feel about this launch after so many years of studying the Trojan asteroids and preparing for this mission?

A: I started studying the Trojan asteroids myself back in the 1980s — in fact, the first paper I published on Trojan asteroids was with an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) student. It’s almost surreal to think that we could go from seeing these objects as tiny points of light through a telescope to revealing them as real geological and geophysical worlds. And it takes decades. It takes a whole career to go from telescopic pinpoints to real, tangible objects. So in some ways, it’s surreal. But in most ways, I am simply in awe of what this team has accomplished in a very challenging last few years.

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

OTHER NEWS

Featured video: A musical encore for a re-imagined library

Graduate students perform Martinů’s “Piano Trio in D Minor,” originally commissioned for Hayden Library's 1950 dedication. Read more »

Dad held after missing two year old found dead in river three miles from submerged car

Emma Sweet, 2, was found dead by the Bartholomew County Water Rescue and Recovery Team (Image/Bartholomew County) A two-year-old Indiana girl who was missing since last week was found dead ... Read more »

Customers snowed-in at Britain's highest pub for three nights finally able to leave - 'They were quite sad'

The snowy scene at the Tan Hill Inn in the Yorkshire Dales on Sunday. (PA) Customers stuck inside a pub for three nights after it was cut off by snow ... Read more »

14 Cyber Monday Vacuum Deals from Amazon You Don't Want to Miss

vacuum Amazon If you didn't get a chance to score a new vacuum on Black Friday, there's no need to worry (or wait until next year). That's because Amazon slashed ... Read more »

Angela Rayner Says She Doesn't Know What's Going On Amid Starmer Reshuffle

The timing of the reshuffle risks reigniting the fury that erupted in the fallout of the Hartlepool by-election, in which Starmer sacked Rayner as party chair before reinstating her to ... Read more »

Toyota Human Support Robot takes part in first UK home trial

One of the first home trials of a robot assistant to aid someone with mobility issues has been carried out by Toyota. The firm’s Human Support Robot (HSR) – which ... Read more »

'Tune out the world': These Sony noise-canceling wireless headphones are nearly 60 percent off for Cyber Monday

We may receive commission from purchases made via links on this page. Pricing and availability are subject to change. They don’t really float in the air like this; but they’ll ... Read more »

Cyber Monday coffee machine deal 2021: Save 30% on the Sage barista express espresso machine

Get ready to make great tasting espresso from the comfort of your own home (The Independent) After weeks of anticipation Black Friday has come to an end but there are ... Read more »

Apple MacBook pro Cyber Monday deals 2021: Save £140 on the M1 model in Very's sale

Now is the time to invest in the dream setup you’ve always wanted (The Independent) There was a time when a new computer from Apple was a once-in-a-generation event. These ... Read more »

Will the Vaccines Stop Omicron? Scientists Are Racing to Find Out.

Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, in his lab at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, South Africa, Jan. 8, 2021. (Joao ... Read more »

Get Up To 30% Off iRobot Vacuums With This Amazon Cyber Week Sale

Left to right: iRobot's Roomba J7 Wi-Fi connected robot vacuum and Roomba J7+ self-emptying robot vacuum from Amazon. (Photo: Amazon)” data-caption=”Left to right: iRobot's Roomba J7 Wi-Fi connected robot vacuum ... Read more »

We reconstructed birdsong soundscapes from over 200,000 places: and they're all getting quieter

As bird populations decline globally, the soundscapes of our natural world become less diverse. Simonas Minkevicius , Author provided Imagine going to hear your favourite orchestral piece played in a ... Read more »

Cyber Monday tech deals 2021 UK: From Apple AirPods to smart TVs and more

Get the very best deals on tech this Black Friday. (Getty Images) Yahoo Life’s editors are committed to independently selecting wonderful products at great prices for you. We may receive ... Read more »

Omicron: Surge in COVID cases 'will send us back into lockdown' - expert

Infection diseases expert Professor Greg Towers warned surging infection rates could trigger a fresh lockdown. (PA Images) An infectious diseases expert has warned England could be forced to implement snap ... Read more »

Juice up on the go! Save up to $75 on portable chargers for your car and phone — but only for Cyber Monday

Yahoo Life has received compensation to create this article, and receives commission from purchases made via links on this page. Pricing and availability are subject to change. Save big on ... Read more »

Red Bull reveal key to Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen difference at Qatar Grand Prix

Christian Horner has defended his actions in Qatar (David Davies/PA) (PA Archive) Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has detailed how just “one corner differentiated” them from title rivals Mercedes ... Read more »

Bad night's sleep linked to feeling 'decades older'

Scientists have uncovered a notable association between sleeping badly and feeling older. (Getty Images) We know we should be striving to get a good night's sleep for the benefit of ... Read more »

A couple who visited South Africa were arrested for escaping their quarantine hotel in the Netherlands and trying to flee the country

Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam, seen on October 29, 2021.ARTHUR VAN DER KOOIJ/ANP/AFP via Getty Images The couple, a Portuguese woman and a Spanish man, were arrested on a flight departing ... Read more »

Carmaker Stellantis secures supply of battery-grade lithium

FILE – A view of the Stellantis logo on a building of the historic Mirafiori headquarters in Turin, Italy, Jan. 18, 2021. The Stellantis carmaker has secured a five-year supply ... Read more »

Heart disease risk from saturated fats may depend on what foods they come from – new research

Our health is affected by the combination of nutrients foods contain. New Africa/ Shutterstock Heart disease is a major cause of death worldwide – responsible for some 9 million deaths ... Read more »

Gaming laptop Cyber Monday deal 2021: Save £270 on this HP Pavilion that comes with a mouse and headset

Play all of the latest PC games and multitask with ease (The Independent) Black Friday might beb coming to an end but there are still plenty of great deals to ... Read more »

Strictly's Dan Walker shares abusive messages from viewers angry he has made quarter final

Dan Walker is through to the ‘Strictly’ quarter finals. (BBC) Dan Walker has revealed an online troll threatened to sue him for bad dancing as he shared the abusive messages ... Read more »

Omicron: why the WHO designated it a variant of concern

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the B.1.1.529 lineage of Sars-CoV-2, thought to have emerged in southern Africa, is to be designated as a variant of concern (VoC) ... Read more »

Half of world's seabirds ingest by plastic additives :study

In addition to the seabirds, chemicals used in plastic products to prevent them from deteriorating or catching fire have been found in other wildlife, including hermit crabs and humans. An ... Read more »

Best Cyber Monday Black Friday laptop deals UK 2021: Offers on Microsoft Surface, MacBook Air Apple and Lenovo

(Black Friday) When it comes to bagging a serious bargain, there’s really no better time than Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The sales events are the biggest days in the ... Read more »

PS5 Cyber Monday deals 2021: Will there be restocks, games and accessories on sale today?

The PS5 is still tricky to buy, but some deals might be available for Cyber Monday (iStock/The Independent) A full year after it was released, the PS5 is still tricky ... Read more »

Paris will use FLYING TAXIS to shuttle sports fans across the city during the 2024 Olympic Games, officials claim

A new test flight centre called Pontoise has been opened near ParisAt least 30 manufacturers will be testing technologies at the test siteThe ultimate goal is to create two flight paths across the city by 2024  Read more »

Trust in scientists soared in Australia and New Zealand during Covid pandemic, poll finds

Photograph: Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images Gallup survey reveals the two countries have the world’s highest levels of trust in scientists, with 62% saying they trust them ‘a lot’ As the Covid-19 ... Read more »

Cyber Monday Black Friday 2021 best smartwatch deals: Fitbit Inspire 2, Apple Watch Series 3, Garmin and more

Apple Watch goes on sale (PA Archive) After much anticipation, Black Friday is- here. Taking place on November 26 and lasting until Cyber Monday on November 29, the sales bonanza ... Read more »

Lindsay Lohan announces engagement to Bader Shammas: 'My love. My life. My family. My future.'

Lindsay Lohan has announced her engagement. (Photo: James Gourley/Getty Images) Lindsay Lohan is making some big romantic moves onscreen and off. Set to make her acting comeback in a Christmas ... Read more »

iPhone 12 pro Cyber Monday deal 2021: Save 50% on Sky's 60GB contract plan in today's sale

There’s plenty of tech deals to snap up on the final day of the shopping bonanza (iStock/The Independent) Cyber Monday is in full swing and prices on our favourite smartphones, ... Read more »

Apple Cyber Monday Black Friday deals 2021: Best offers on iPhone 12, Apple Watch, iPad Pro and AirPods Pro

(Black Friday) You’ve had it earmarked in your diary all year and now Black Friday is finally here. For those of you that may be unfamiliar with the shopping event, ... Read more »

Cyber Monday Black Friday Best AirPod Deals 2021: Offers on Apple's AirPods Pro, AirPod Max and 3rd generation

(Black Friday) Buckle up everyone. Black Friday, the shopping event of the year, is here. From Black Friday to Cyber Monday there are incredible deals to be had from TVs ... Read more »

Dan Walker responds to Strictly Come Dancing 'fix' claims

BBC Breakfast host Dan Walker has responded to social media users who claim Strictly Come Dancing is fixed because he's still in the competition. The presenter has become the dark ... Read more »

Best FIFA 22 Cyber Monday Black Friday deals 2021: Get the game on PS4, Nintendo Switch, PS5 and Xbox

(Black Friday) Each year, gaming fans eagerly await the launch of the next installment to the ever-popular FIFA game. Launched on September 26, EA’s football simulation game boasts the most ... Read more »

How far-right extremist groups face exposure from army of hacktivists

Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Throughout 2021, websites associated with far-right extremist groups and extremist-friendly platforms and hosts have suffered from data leaks and breaches that have exposed the inner workings of ... Read more »

COVID-19: Community transmission suspected as UK Omicron cases detected with no travel history

Read more »

Best Cyber Monday Ninja air fryer deal 2021: Save £50 on this do-anything appliance at Argos

If you’re after a helping hand in the kitchen, this is it (The Independent) Cyber Monday is upon us, and if you haven’t already snapped up a discount, then there ... Read more »

Did Archaeologists Just Find Evidence of Hanukkah Stories?

Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images This week marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the “festival of lights.” The holiday commemorates an event during the Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE, ... Read more »

Sir Frank Williams Dies Aged 79

Sir Frank Williams, founder of the Williams Racing Formula 1 team, has died aged 79. He built the team named after him into one of the most successful in the ... 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