In a mission the first of its kind, NASA is set to explore a mysterious swarm of Trojan asteroids circling the Sun. The mission will see NASA send a robot probe to inspect the Trojan asteroids in an attempt to find out more about the history of the Solar System.
Hal Levison, a principal investigator involved with the Lucy mission, which will oversee the inspection of the asteroids, emphasised the significance of the advancement.
He said: “This is a very exciting time for us, because we are moving beyond the design phase and are really starting to build the spacecraft.
“It is finally becoming real!”
The Trojan asteroids orbit the Sun in two giant clumps along the path of the planet Jupiter.
The satellite could reveal historic truths about the Solar System
The satellite will orbit the Earth twice, using its gravitational pull to ping it into the void
One group leads the orbit and speeds just ahead of Jupiter, while the other group trails and tries to catch up to the gas giant.
Scientists believe the asteroids could hold the key to finding out more about the history of the Solar System.
As part of the Lucy mission’s descriptions, NASA officials wrote: “These primitive bodies hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system, and perhaps even the origins of life and organic material on Earth.”
Lucy is expected to launch two years from now, in October 2021.
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Lucy will make its way towards the asteroid belt where the group of Trojan asteroids are
One the first group has been explored Lucy will shoot back towards the Sun to pick up speed for the
Lucy will zoom past Mars for a second time before nearing the end of its mission
The spacecraft’s orbit will then ping the robot back towards the Sun ready to take on the next swarm of asteroids.
This second round is hoped to make contact in March 2033 – marking the mission’s grand finale.
No probe has ever before visited so many different destinations in separate and independent orbits, Lucy team members have claimed.
The mission’s name is an ode to an ancient 3.2million-year-old hominid fossil found in Ethiopia in 1974 by palaeontologists Donald Johanson (whose name features as the main-belt asteroid that the probe will visit) and Tom Gray.
Larger asteroids are constantly Earth-bound and pose a great risk to humankind
Just as the discovery of the Lucy fossil shed light on humanity’s origins, so too will the Lucy spacecraft likely expose unknown truths about humankind.
Yesterday, Express.co.uk reported on a mammoth space rock heading towards Earth that may disturb Christmas festivities.
The asteroid, known as 216258 2006 WH1, is set for its closest approach to Earth on December 20 – just days before Christmas.
The 540 metre space rock is the same size as the World Trade Centre and would cause a significant amount of damage and mass extinction.
Satellites are in place to divert any asteroids that pose a serious threat
The asteroid is currently thought to be hurtling towards the Earth at a speed of 43,200km/h or 26,843mph.
The asteroid’s course could be further influenced by natural a phenomenon known as the Yarkovksey effect.
The effect occurs when the gentle force of sunlight edges an asteroid either way of its natural course.
Its influence on an asteroid was demonstrated in 2012 with mastoid 1999RQ36, where scientists, using the effect, were able to estimate the most accurate determination of an asteroids orbit to date.
Daily Express :: Science Feed