Watch NASA Launch Spacecraft to Historic Asteroid Swarms Close to Jupiter


On Saturday, NASA launches its Lucy probe to the Trojan asteroids that orbit the solar with Jupiter. 
The Trojans are like fossils, unchanged for the reason that photo voltaic system was born 4.6 billion years in the past.
Lucy goals to go to eight completely different asteroids — a document variety of encounters.

One thing is loading.

NASA is about to launch an formidable mission to discover swarms of asteroids as previous as our photo voltaic system.These asteroids, known as Trojans, orbit the solar alongside Jupiter. One group of them leads the fuel large alongside its orbital path, and one other group trails behind. These house rocks shaped throughout the delivery of our photo voltaic system almost 4.6 billion years in the past and have remained largely unchanged ever since.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, Florida, November 18, 2013.

NASA/Invoice Ingalls

Scientists wish to discover out what these time capsules maintain, so NASA is sending a 52-foot-wide spacecraft, known as Lucy, to research. The probe is ready to launch aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Saturday morning.Lucy is scheduled to go to eight asteroids over the following 12 years. A type of house rocks is within the photo voltaic system’s most important asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter, which Lucy will move on its method to the opposite seven asteroids, that are a part of the Trojans.

“These objects we view as being the fossils of planet formation,” Hal Levison, the mission’s principal investigator, stated in a briefing final month.

An illustrated mannequin of the Trojan asteroids — one swarm main Jupiter in its orbit and the opposite following it.

Astronomical Institute of CAS/Petr Scheirich

That is the place Lucy will get its identify — it is a reference to the well-known 3.2-million-year-old fossilized human ancestor. On the time of her discovery, in 1974, Lucy was the oldest, most full hominin skeleton ever discovered. She was proof that human ancestors walked upright, which helped paleoanthropologists piece collectively people’ evolutionary historical past. Scientists hope that Trojan asteroids can do the identical for the outer photo voltaic system.”A few of the most essential planetary science questions we’re attempting to reply are targeted on the origin and the evolution of the photo voltaic system. Asteroids and different small our bodies are actually essential keys to understanding that historical past,” Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of planetary science, stated within the briefing.

Employees contained in the Astrotech House Operations Facility in Titusville, Florida, transfer the primary half of the rocket’s payload fairing towards NASA’s Lucy spacecraft on September 30, 2021.

NASA/Ben Smegelsky

Lucy’s deliberate journey would lead it to go to extra asteroids than any prior spacecraft. It’ll additionally enterprise farther from the solar than any solar-powered probe has ever gone.

Watch dwell as Lucy launches into spaceLiftoff is scheduled for five:34 a.m. ET on October 16. NASA plans to begin its dwell launch broadcast at 5 a.m. ET, within the video embedded under.If climate delays the launch, NASA has one other 22 days in its window, with an hour-long launch alternative every morning.Shut encounters of the asteroid form

An illustration of the Trojan asteroids main and following Jupiter.


Lucy’s mission is seven years within the making. The unique plan known as for visits to simply two asteroids, however NASA engineers and scientists grew extra formidable as they designed the spacecraft and plotted its journey.Now, the probe has a record-breaking lineup. A few of its eight stops are two-for-ones: One asteroid has its personal satellite tv for pc — a smaller rock trapped in its orbit — and two of Lucy’s targets are a pair of binary asteroids that circle one another.

However Lucy’s encounter with every primordial house rock might be transient. The spacecraft cannot decelerate or land on its targets — that may require an excessive amount of propellant — so it would zip inside 600 miles of their surfaces, transferring 3 to 5 5 miles per second.In the course of the few hours through which it approaches and passes the asteroids, Lucy’s scientific devices will accumulate knowledge on their composition, density, and dimension. It may even uncover rocks or rings circling the asteroids — options too small to see from Earth.By the top of Lucy’s journey, NASA expects to have spent $981.1 million on the mission, in keeping with Glaze.Lucy has to revisit Earth 3 instances to hit its targets

A diagram illustrating Lucy’s orbital path, together with three Earth flybys.

Southwest Analysis Institute

Scientists have recognized over 7,000 Trojan asteroids, break up into three main varieties. One group resembles the house rocks within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, whereas the opposite two resemble icy objects within the Kuiper Belt on the outskirts of the photo voltaic system.

This means that the assorted varieties of Trojans shaped by way of completely different processes, and in numerous components of the photo voltaic system. Scientists aren’t certain how they ended up collectively alongside Jupiter’s orbit. So Lucy will go to asteroids of every sort in an try to search out out.”Masking this variety is vital. And discovering a trajectory that really will permit us to go to all a majority of these objects has been an actual chore,” Levison stated.To succeed in all of its locations, the truth is, Lucy has to circle again to Earth 3 times to get a momentum enhance from our planet’s gravity. That can make it the primary spacecraft to journey to Jupiter’s orbit and again.NASA goes all in on asteroids

An illustration of the DART spacecraft approaching its goal asteroid.

NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

NASA is sending probes to asteroids scattered all around the photo voltaic system.

“Lucy is a part of a set of formidable missions to check the variety of those asteroid populations that may assist us fill in additional items of that cosmic puzzle,” Glaze stated.NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has been learning asteroids and different objects within the Kuiper Belt, past Neptune, because it flew previous Pluto in 2015.The company’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, in the meantime, landed on an asteroid final yr, punched into its floor, and scooped a pattern of rock. That probe is on its method again to Earth with the pattern in tow. Japan lately accomplished an analogous mission and introduced its personal asteroid samples to Earth, so NASA and Japan’s house company plan to commerce bits of their samples.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s pattern arm touches down on the floor of asteroid Bennu.

NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona

Different missions purpose to arrange for the chance that an asteroid may strike our planet. In November, NASA plans to launch a spacecraft to slam into a close-by asteroid. That mission, known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Check (DART), is testing a way that would deflect house rocks off of a collision course with Earth. NASA can also be engaged on a brand new house telescope, known as NEO (near-Earth object) Surveyor, which might assist scientists catalogue harmful asteroids in our neighborhood.

Subsequent yr, NASA plans to launch yet one more probe, known as Psyche, to a metallic asteroid that could possibly be the leftover core of an historic planet.”All of those are extremely attention-grabbing locations. And in every case, we’re exploring locations no spacecraft has ever been, so we can’t know for certain what we’ll uncover until we get there,” Glaze stated. “However we all know that no matter Lucy finds will give us important clues in regards to the formation of our photo voltaic system.”This put up has been up to date. It was initially revealed on October 7, 2021.