The solar panels on the Lucy Mission spacecraft have been successfully deployed, marking the beginning of the spacecraft’s epic journey to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. Lucy, NASA’s asteroid-observing space mission, set out from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Saturday, October 16 at 3:04 PM IST (9:34 UTC) to examine these worlds.
Not many people know what the Trojan asteroids are. And honestly, neither did I, till it popped up on my Twitter feed. So, let me tell you. The Trojan asteroids are stony worlds that are as old as our solar system and orbit Jupiter around the Sun in the same orbit as Jupiter. They’re thought to be high in carbon compounds and rich in water and other volatile compounds behind an insulating covering of dust. They could reveal some new information about the origins of organic materials and life on our Earth. By exploring these 4.5 billion-year-old planetary relics, scientists anticipate that the Lucy Mission will help get a better understanding of the evolution of the solar system.
But why is Lucy the name of this mission? It was named after Lucy, a preserved human ancestor whose skeleton was discovered and contributed to the understanding of human evolution in the late 20th century. The Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” which was playing at the time when the fossil was discovered, inspired her name.
The universe is vast. Really, really gigantic. Travelling long distances also takes a long time. It will take the Lucy Mission six years to reach its first Trojan asteroid. It will be the first spacecraft to return to Earth’s vicinity from the outer solar system after a 12-year voyage to eight distinct asteroids, including the Main Belt asteroid and seven Trojans. Lucy will reveal the diversity of the primordial bodies that formed the planets for the first time.
“We started working on the Lucy mission concept early in 2014, so this launch has been long in the making. It will still be several years before we get to the first Trojan asteroid, but these objects are worth the wait and all the effort because of their immense scientific value. They are like diamonds in the sky.” Hal Levison (Lucy’s principal investigator with the Southwest Research Institute) said in a statement.
Looks like Lucy’s got some exploration of its own to do!