NASA's Lucy mission to probe Jupiter's mysterious Trojan asteroids

NASA released this NASA photo on July 2, 2018. It shows Jupiter's southern half, captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft during an outbound leg of close flyby.
NASA will send its first spacecraft to Jupiter's Trojan asteroids, to gain new insight into the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. NASA announced Tuesday.

The probe, named Lucy after an ancient fossil that gave insight into the evolution and development of human species, will be launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on October 16.

Its mission is to examine the group of rocky bodies that circle the Sun in two swarms. One is preceding Jupiter in its orbital path, and the other is following it.

Lucy will travel 12 years to reach eight asteroids after receiving boosts from Earth’s gravity. One is in the Main Belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Seven Trojans are also included.

"Despite the fact they are in a very limited region of space, but they're very physically distinct from one another," Hal Levison (mission's principal scientist) said to reporters about the Trojan asteroids which total more than 7,000.

"Example, they have very diverse colors, some of them are grey, others are red," he said, adding that the differences indicate how far from the Sun they may have formed before they assumed their current trajectory.

Lori Glaze, NASA's director of planetary science, stated that whatever Lucy discovers will provide us with crucial clues about how our solar system formed.

Lucy will fly within 250 miles (400 km) of its target objects and use its onboard instruments to study their geology.

Lockheed Martin built the ship. It contains over two miles worth of wire and solar panel. If placed side-by-side, it would be nearly as tall as five stories.

It will be the first solar powered spacecraft to travel this far from Sun. The mission will cost $981 million.

Lucy, a fossil discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 by researchers named her after the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", which was being played loudly at the expedition camp.

The official NASA logo is diamond-shaped as a tribute to this heritage.

2021 AFP