Science & Space

NASA's Spectacular Journey: Lucy's Breath-taking Journey To 10 Different Spectacular Asteroid World

There are numerous celestial objects in our solar system, with asteroids being the most common. 

In our solar system, an asteroid belt exists between Mars, the fourth planet, and Jupiter, the fifth planet.

Those asteroids are made of various materials and shapes, but Lucy will visit a group of asteroids known as Trojan asteroids

Trojans are different from other asteroids. They are the remnants of the formation of solar systems. Trojans also differ in that they orbit farther away from the sun, near Jupiter's, Venus's, Neptune's, and even Mars's orbits. In the case of Lucy's mission, it will be going to visit Jupiter's trojans. The trojans are mainly non-reflective in nature because their albedo is much lower than that of asteroids in the asteroid belts. 

Lucy's mission age is twelve years, and during its 12-year mission, it will explore a record-breaking number of asteroids, flying by two main-belt asteroids, and eight Trojans. No other spacecraft has ever visited so many celestial objects in the history of space flight. 

The Lucy space mission has been named after the 3.2 million years of old Lucy Hominin Fossiles because scientists are expecting to discover fossils of the formation of planets that clumped up in the early days of solar system formation.  

Lucy's Launch:

Lucy was launched from Cape Canaveral SLC-41 on 16 October 2021 using the 401 variant of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle. Lucy will be managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and was built in Denver, Colorado by Lockheed Martin Space Systems. The mission cost approximately $981 million. 

Lucy's spacecraft is shaped like a double cookie and is attached to a drum-shaped body. Its circular solar panel diameter is 24 feet or 7 meters. Lucy explores the defined objects with clarity by using various instruments such as spectrographs, cameras, and antennas.

Its payloads are L'Ralph – panchromatic and color visible imager (0.4–0.85 μm) and infrared spectroscopic mapper (1–3.6 μm), L'LORRI – high-resolution visible imager, L'TES – thermal infrared spectrometer (6–75 μm). L'TES is similar to OTES on the OSIRIS-REx mission, T2CAM – terminal tracking camera (T2CAM or TTCAM), and high gain antennas of 6.5 feet or 2 meters to measure the doppler shift. 

Lucy's instruments will need to be in perfect shape because the mission is traveling at speeds ranging from 3.7 to 4.3 miles (6 to 7 kilometers) per second.

Lucy's mission chronology:  

Lucy came into being for the first time on November 5, 2014, when the organization selected the Lucy mission through the Discovery Program Announcement of Opportunity. 

After selecting the program, NASA declared the mission launch of 2021 in 2019. After its launch in 2021, the spacecraft visited its origin, the earth, on 16th October 2022, to gain one gravity assistance. It will again visit the earth on 13th December 2024 and 26th December 2030. 

On November 1, 2023, the spacecraft will make its first flyby of the inner belt asteroid (152830) 1999 VD57. On 20 April 2025, it will pass by another inner-built asteroid, 52246 Donaldjohanson

Following that, it will pass four Jupiter fourth-lagrangian trojans: 3548 Eurybates, 15094 Polymele, 11351 Leucus, and 21900 Orus. The fly-bys will take place on the 12th of August 2027, the 15th of September 2027, the 18th of April 2028, and the 11th of November 2028, respectively. 

On the fifth-Lagrangian orbit, it will make its final visit to 617 Patroclus-Menoetius on March 2, 2033.

Exploration of Jupiter Trojans is one of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey's top priorities. These trojans are being observed by ground-based telescopes to explore the formation of solar systems and earth since the inception of modern solar exploration days. 

Let's take a quick look at each of these trojans.

 (152830) 1999 VD57: 

It is a small main belt asteroid with a diameter of 700 meters or 0.7 kilometers or 2,300 feet that was discovered on November 4, 1999, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey in Socorro, New Mexico. It is an S or V-type asteroid that Lucy will visit on November 1, 2023. It is the smallest target of the mission and its name has yet been given by astronomers. 

52246 Donaldjohanson:

This asteroid is also an inner belt carbonaceous Erigonian asteroid and it was primary designation was 1986 EQ5. Its approximate diameter is 4 kilometers or 2.5 miles. It was discovered on March 2, 1981, at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia by American astronomer Schelte Bus. Donaldjohanson has similar properties to the rocks that NASA's OSIRIS-REx and Japan's Hayabusa2 asteroid-sampling missions have studied. It is named after American paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, this C-type asteroid is the target of the Lucy mission. 

3548 Eurybates: 

It is a Jupiter trojan from the Greek camp and the parent body of the Eurybates family. Its approximate diameter is 68 kilometers or 42 miles. The C-type asteroid was discovered during the second Palomar–Leiden Trojan survey in 1973, it was later named after Eurybates from Greek mythology. It has an 8.7-hour rotational period and a satellite, Queta, was discovered by the great Hubble Space Telescope.

 15094 Polymele: 

It is one of the primitive types of trojan of Jupiter with a diameter of 21 kilometers or 13 miles. It was discovered by astronomers from the Catalina Sky Survey at Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona on November 17, 1999. The rotation period of the P-type asteroid is 5.9 hours, and it has a highly elongated shape. It was named after Polymele, the wife of Menoetius and the mother of Patroclus in Greek mythology.

 11351 Leucus:

It is a mid-sized-40 km diameter asteroid of Jupiter's Greek camp with a rotational period of 466 hours and an extremely slow rotation. On October 12, 1997, the Beijing Schmidt CCD Asteroid Program (SCAP) discovered it at Xinglong Station in the Chinese province of Hebei.

21900 Orus: 

Its diameter is 53 km or 33 miles, with a rotational period of 12.5 hours. On November 9, 1999, Japanese amateur astronomer Takao Kobayashi discovered it at his private izumi Observatory in Gunma Prefecture, Japan, and named it Orus after a slain Achaean warrior from the Iliad.

617 Patroclus: 

617 Patroclus is one of the larger binary trojan asteroids of Jupiter. The asteroid is a D-type dark category asteroid with a slow orbital rotation of only 103 days. Patroclus was discovered on October 17, 1906, by astronomer August Kopff at the Heidelberg Observatory in Germany, and was named after the Greek mythological figure Patroclus. It will be the last trojan horse will be visited by the Lucy spacecraft. 

Lucy is the hope for the world to find the answer to the most asked question on the earth: How did the planets of our solar system form, and how did they form in other solar systems?