Lucy Mission Overview: Journey to Explore the Trojan Asteroids


The Lucy Mission is going to
fly past seven asteroids in twelve years with one
spacecraft. We are going to an amazing variety of objects with
this mission, and it’s really almost pure luck that allowed us
to get as many rich targets as we are. Literally, the planets
were aligning to allow us to do this mission. The Lucy Mission
is named after the Lucy fossil, the Australopithecus fossil,
that was discovered in the 1970s in Ethiopia. And just like the
Lucy fossil transformed our understanding of hominid
evolution, the Lucy Mission will transform our understanding of
Solar System evolution. Trojan Asteroids are an interesting
population of small bodies that are left over from the formation
of the planets. And they lead or follow Jupiter in its orbit by
roughly sixty degrees. If you just look at the gravitational
attraction of the Sun and Jupiter and put something
exactly sixty degrees in front of Jupiter, it’s stable forever.
So, as a result these objects are really the leftovers of
planet formation. The stuff that went into growing Jupiter and
Saturn are now trapped in these locations. The very first
asteroid we get to is a main belt asteroid named
DonaldJohanson. We named that asteroid in honor of the
researcher who found the Lucy fossil. We’re going to use that
asteroid to do a rehearsal on our spacecraft to make sure that
everything is working properly so that when we get to the
Trojan asteroids, we’re ready to go. We’re visiting both of the
Trojan swarms. In the first orbit, we’re going into the
leading swarm and we’re going to encounter four Trojan targets:
Eurybates, Polymele, Leucus, and Orus. And from this, we’re going
to sample the diversity in sizes, colors, and compositions.
The first two flybys happen just about thirty days apart, so it’s
going to be a pretty busy kickoff to the season of
exploring the asteroids in the L4 swarm. And then, we’ll fly
past Earth again and out to the L5 swarm. The final object we’re
visiting, which I must admit is my favorite, is a binary object.
So, that’s two Trojans that orbit a common center of mass,
it’s called Patroclus and Menoetius. These objects are
nearly identical in size that orbit one another. From the Lucy
Mission we’re going to study the diversity of our targets because
that tells us something about their origin and where they came
from. The interesting thing about small bodies in general is
that they are the leftovers of planet formation. If you look at
the eight planets that we know about, for example, they are
highly processed because of internal processing. These
asteroids are objects that really haven’t changed much from
when the planets assembled themselves. As a result, by
studying them we can figure out the physical conditions of the
early Solar System as well as how the planets grew and how
they moved around early on. All of that will help us form a
detailed picture of what these objects really look like because
right now our best images are just a point of light. Even
using the Hubble Space Telescope or adaptive optics on large,
ground-based telescopes, we can’t see surface details. And
it’s going to take the Lucy Mission to go to these targets
and see what they’re really made of and what they look like.

23 Replies to “Lucy Mission Overview: Journey to Explore the Trojan Asteroids

  1. It is exciting but one of these times, their gonna keep messing worth these rocks and one will go off course and will end up hitting earth. I thank you for all the info. God Bless…

  2. I have noticed the mission patch is a diamond. Could they have also had the famous Beatles' song, "Lucy in the sky with diamonds" running through their heads?

  3. No DNA or mRNA or nucleotides exists on any asteroid. Your attempt to find the buildings blocks that formed life on earth will not be found in any asteroid. No asteroid is the Trojan horse bringing information to start life on Earth.
    Repent for denying God as the creator of all things. Judgment is coming, get ready.

  4. Lucy the fossil was named after the Beatles' song "Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds". So that is even more appropriate. Lucy in the Sky with Trojan asteroid Diamonds.

  5. A Lucky vai aterrar nestes asteróides? ou simplesmente estuda-los à distância?? Temos que ter cuidado porque Júpiter está a expulsar os asteróides e a envia-los na nossa direcção….parece que Júpiter quer encetar uma Guerra com a Terra…será que ela tem anti asteróides para se defender?? Esta missão é importante para criar um sistema de defesa ou apenas para saber um pouco mais destes??

  6. It might be a good idea to learn how to pronounce Australopithecus before mentioning it in a public interview that will be posted online. Just saying..

  7. Interesting stuff.
    Disclaimer: Please excuse my flights of fancy. Carry on with your efforts.
    Since I am neither scientist nor engineer, I feel free to suggest alternatives to official dogma. To whit:
    My premise is that most of those objects are captures from extra-solar sources. 4.5 billion years is too long for the known instabilities to have propagated. Evidence of planetary cataclysm, such as Saturn's rings, and Io's weird interaction with her environment, are, in my view, recent artifacts. Pursuant to this thought, the odd motions of known distant minor planets suggests interactions with unmodeled event sources. I postulate our passage through what I call a "junk cloud", an LMC, perhaps (there's one close by), in the not too distant past. The residue from some other star's formation, a star now so distant it gives no hints or clues, despite the interactions of its discarded waste and our lovely orbital mechanics.
    Evidence of stable, similar, moon and LaGrange balances and resonances among clumps of orbital detritus, in foreign systems, will likely liven the discussion. The observations that show our Solar system has orbital bands uninhabited by anything but a planet . . . (by the way, Jupiter has not "cleared out its orbit" yet-has it?), mixed with orbital bands inhabited by inarticulate junk, seems to argue separate origins.
    No offense meant, of course. As a writer of speculative fiction, I, too, seek explanations for the way things are.
    And a thought synchronous with certain questions about planet formation. How big must a comet be to still have enough volatile material to emit a coma after 4.5 billions years of ellipses? Planet size?

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