NASA’s Lucy mission recently achieved a major milestone as it completed its first flyby of the small asteroid Dinkinesh. Launched in October 2021, the spacecraft came within 265 miles of the asteroid’s surface. Dinkinesh, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is approximately half a mile wide.
The successful flyby of Dinkinesh marks an important step for the Lucy mission, which plans to explore a total of 10 asteroids over its 12-year journey. This close approach allowed the spacecraft to test its equipment and gather valuable data on the asteroid’s surface. Additionally, it provided an opportunity for scientists to understand small near-Earth asteroids and their origins.
Lucy’s primary objective is to investigate Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid swarms, a region that has never been explored before. These asteroids orbit the sun in two distinct swarms and are too remote to be observed in detail using telescopes. Consequently, Lucy will provide the first high-resolution images of these Trojan asteroids, offering valuable insights into their composition and characteristics.
The data collected from Dinkinesh will contribute greatly towards scientists’ understanding of the solar system’s formation. By using Earth’s gravity, Lucy will propel itself back towards the main asteroid belt for another flyby in 2025. Then, in 2027, it will finally reach the much-anticipated Trojan asteroids, providing crucial information about the positioning of planets and the formation of our solar system.
The Lucy mission takes its name from the famous Lucy fossil, a remarkable find that revolutionized our understanding of human evolution. Similarly, the mission aims to delve deep into the past by peering back 4.5 billion years ago, when the solar system began to take shape. By uncovering key insights into the formation processes, Lucy will shed light on the origins of our cosmic neighborhood.
With its relentless pursuit of knowledge, the NASA Lucy mission holds promise for unveiling profound secrets about our solar system’s history. As the spacecraft continues on its path, humanity eagerly anticipates the invaluable discoveries yet to come.