Asteroids to help NASA study solar system's evolution

How Jupiter's 'trojan' asteroids will help NASA learn about evolution of solar system

NASA's 'Lucy' spacecraft will launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on October 16

NASA's Lucy spacecraft is shown as it is prepared for launch in October aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Credit: Reuters Photo

NASA is poised to send its first spacecraft to study Jupiter's Trojan asteroids next week to glean new insights into the solar system's formation 4.5 billion years ago. After receiving boosts from Earth's gravity, Lucy will embark on a 12-year journey to eight different asteroids, one in the Main Belt between Mars and Jupiter and then the seven Trojans.

Also read: NASA's Lucy mission to probe Jupiter's mysterious Trojan asteroids

The mission is named after ‘Lucy’, a 3.2 million-year-old ancestor who belonged to a species of hominins. It will be the first solar-powered ship to venture this far from the Sun, and will observe more asteroids than any other spacecraft before it. The total mission cost is $981 million.

The ship was built by Lockheed Martin and includes over two miles of wire and solar panels that, placed end-to-end, would be as tall as a five-story building.

Lucy’s launch date:

The spacecraft will launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida on an Atlas V 401 rocket during a 21-day launch period that will start on October 16. The spacecraft will fly by the Earth twice in order to use the planet’s gravitational field to assist it on its journey to the asteroids, a report by The Indian Express explained.

Aim of the mission:

The mission aims to understand the composition of the diverse asteroids that are a part of the Trojan asteroid swarms, to determine the mass and densities of the materials. The mission also aims to look for and study the satellites and rings that may orbit the Trojan asteroids. Trojan asteroids are believed to be formed from the same material that led to the formation of planets nearly 4 billion years ago when the solar system was formed.

What are the Trojan asteroids?

Asteroids are divided into three categories, in which the second category is that of Trojans. NASA has earlier reported presence of trojan asteroids around Jupiter, Neptune and Mars, said The Indian Express report.

The Jupiter asteroids can be found in what are referred to as “swarms” that lead and follow the planet Jupiter along its orbit around the Sun. ‘Lucy’ will reach the first swarm of these asteroids that precede Jupiter by August 2027.

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