“Lucy” is looking for diamonds in the sky: The US space agency (NASA) today (Saturday) successfully launched a robotic research probe, which embarked on a 12-year journey to first study asteroids in the orbit of Jupiter, in an attempt to solve mysteries from the beginning of the solar system.
The Lucy spacecraft, named after the 3.2 million-year-old fossilized skull that helped study evolution, was launched on an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and after about an hour and a half activated its two solar panels to begin its independent journey of more than six billion miles. It will perform two flying maneuvers near Earth in 2022 and 2024 that will help it accelerate its speed deep into the solar system.
Later, it will pass near an asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. During 2028-2027 it will explore five Trojan asteroids orbiting Jupiter. It will then return to Earth to perform another maneuver that will take it to a cluster of Trojan asteroids on the other side of Jupiter, where it will explore two asteroids in 2033, before continuing to move in the asteroid swarm for many years to come.
The Trojan asteroids, which have never been directly studied, are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets. Because of this, scientists see them as time capsules and hope that the information the probe will collect about their surface, their components and their environment will help answer key questions about the origin of the solar system.
Meanwhile, the Chinese spacecraft Shenzhou-13 arrived this morning at the new Tainha space station, carrying three tycoons – Jai Zhe-gang, Wang Yapping and Via Guanpo – who will be on board for six months, the longest manned mission in the history of the Chinese space program. Wang, who had already flown into space eight years ago and would become the first Chinese woman to perform a spacewalk, said before takeoff that her five-year-old daughter had asked her to “bring me stars, and another pack of stars to share with friends.”