NASA’s Lucy spacecraft is about to visit its first asteroid. On November 1, it will pass within 430 kilometers (430 kilometers) of the small asteroid Dinkinesh, testing its instruments and making several scientific observations as it zips by.
Lucy was launched in October 2021 and has been flying at about 19.4 kilometers per second toward the outer solar system ever since. The primary targets of exploration are the Trojan asteroids, which orbit the Sun in the same orbit as Jupiter. One herd of Trojans moves just in front of Jupiter, and the other follows just behind him.
Dinkinesh is not a Trojan horse and is located in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. As such, this stone will be used as a stopover on the way to the Trojans to make sure all of Lucy’s scientific equipment works properly against his nine other asteroids that he will observe during the main part of the mission. It is the perfect stone for.
At less than a kilometer wide, Dinkinesh is so small that it’s barely visible from Earth, so this flight will be the first time we’ve seen its surface. During the flight, the tracking system used to keep the asteroid within the camera’s field of view will be tested. This system is especially important because of the relatively small size of the asteroid and the tremendous speed with which the spacecraft will pass by it.
“For the Trojans, we have a very accurate estimate of their trajectory, but there is still about 100 miles of uncertainty, and we need to make sure we don’t miss out as we approach these targets. ” he says. Noemi Pinilla Alonso at the University of Central Florida. “This rehearsal tells the team how good the system is and gives us a chance to test and improve everything before the science begins.”
If the tracking system works as expected, scientific instruments will be used to take some basic measurements of Dinkinesh’s surface. Although the primary purpose of this flyby is testing, these instruments could still provide useful information to researchers. “Other asteroids of the same size that NASA has visited are near-Earth asteroids, so one of the things we want to know is whether the shape of this type of object in the main belt is similar to the shape of the delivered object. “It’s similar to the solar system,” Pinilla-Alonso says.
The next big event for Lucy after this flyby will be another pass by Earth in December 2024, followed by a visit to another main-belt asteroid in 2025, and then a return trip to Jupiter and its Trojans. It’s a year-long journey. Trojans may be primordial remnants of the solar system’s planet-forming process, and by studying them up close, researchers hope to learn more about how, where, and how planets form. They hope to later gain insight into how they moved through the solar system.