This NASA spacecraft is on its approach to Jupiter’s mysterious asteroid swarms

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Lucy will take black-and-white and colour photos, and use a diamond beam splitter to shine far-infrared mild on the asteroids to take their temperature and make maps of their floor. It’s going to additionally gather different measurements because it flies by. This knowledge may assist scientists perceive how the planets could have shaped.

Sarah Dodson-Robinson, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy on the College of Delaware, says Lucy may supply a definitive time line for not solely when the planets initially shaped, however the place.

“If you happen to can nail down when the Trojan asteroids shaped, then you may have some details about when did Jupiter type, and might begin asking questions like ‘The place did Jupiter go within the photo voltaic system?’” she says. “As a result of it wasn’t all the time the place it’s now. It’s moved round.”

And to find out the asteroids’ ages, the spacecraft will seek for floor craters that could be no greater than a soccer area. 

“[The Trojans] haven’t had almost as a lot colliding and breaking as a few of the different asteroids which are nearer to us,” says Dodson-Robinson. “We’re doubtlessly getting a take a look at a few of these asteroids like they have been shortly after they shaped.”

On its 4-billion-mile journey, Lucy will obtain three gravity assists from Earth, which can contain utilizing the planet’s gravitational power to vary the spacecraft’s trajectory with out depleting its assets. Coralie Adam, deputy navigation group chief for the Lucy mission, says every push will improve the spacecraft’s velocity from 200 miles per hour to over 11,000 mph.

“If not for this Earth gravity help, it might take 5 occasions the quantity of gas—or three metric tons—to achieve Lucy’s goal, which might make the mission unfeasible,” mentioned Adam throughout an engineering media briefing additionally held on October 14.

Lucy’s mission is slated to finish in 2033, however some NASA officers already really feel assured that the spacecraft will final far longer. “There might be quantity of gas left onboard,” mentioned Adam. “After the ultimate encounter with the binary asteroids, so long as the spacecraft is wholesome, we plan to suggest to NASA to do an prolonged mission and discover extra Trojans.”

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