NASA’s Lucy probe flew close to asteroids

NASA’s Lucy probe has visited its first asteroid. (Uncredited / NASA / AP / dpa / Uncredited)
The probe flew past the asteroid “Dinkinesh” about 400 kilometers away. The US space agency NASA announced that it had successfully completed the maneuver. It will now take about a week to send all the data collected to Earth. The “Dinkinesh”, with a diameter of less than a kilometer, is the first of about ten asteroids that the probe will examine.

Main target: Jupiter asteroids

The flyby was primarily a test. The aim was to find out whether the scientific instruments on board the probe were working. Their actual target is the asteroids of Jupiter.

“Lucy” was launched in 2021 from the Cape Canaveral spaceport in the US state of Florida. The more than 14 meter long probe, which is powered by fuel and batteries rechargeable via solar cells, is intended to fly closely past seven of the so-called Jupiter Trojans: Eurybates, Queta, Polymele, Leucus, Orus, Patroclus and Menoetius – all named after protagonists from the Ancient legend “Iliad” by Homer.

The Jupiter Trojans are asteroids that orbit the sun in the same orbit as Jupiter – one swarm precedes it, one follows it. They are considered fossils of the formation of planets, which is why NASA hopes the mission will provide new insights into the formation of planets and our solar system.

In addition, “Lucy” will be the first probe in the history of space travel to return to the vicinity of the Earth three times in order to obtain support from Earth’s gravity for its flight. The mission is scheduled to last twelve years, and “Lucy” is expected to cover a total of around 6.5 billion kilometers.

How “Lucy” got its name

The probe’s name is taken from the Beatles song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. It is said to have blared from a cassette recorder when researchers discovered parts of the skeleton of a female pre-human in the Ethiopian Afar Triangle in 1974. The find proved for the first time that the forerunners of today’s humans were able to walk upright around three million years ago.

The fossil – and now the NASA probe – was nicknamed “Lucy”. According to NASA, the reason is simple: Just as the “Lucy” fossil provided unique insights into human development, the “Lucy” mission promises to revolutionize our knowledge of the formation of the planets and the solar system, explained the US space agency.

This message was sent on November 3rd, 2023 on the Deutschlandfunk program.

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