Lucy will help Scientists to determine the Early History of our Solar System

Lucy will help Scientists to determine the Early History of our Solar System

One of the most ambitious missions of NASA is ready to explore two groups of asteroids.

The first mission to Jupiter, in history, is set to start in early 2021. It will study two groups of asteroids named the L4 Trojan Cloud and the L5 Trojan Cloud. Lucy is designed to use the orbit of the Earth twice as it will use the gravitational pull of our planet to ‘slingshot’ itself towards its target. This spacecraft of NASA will reach one of the asteroid group by 2027, where it will be deployed to study the rocks. After that mission, it will return to Earth’s orbit and will launch itself towards L5 Trojan Cloud.

The plan is to study a main-belt asteroid initially and then proceed to the asteroid group. Named after the discoverer of the Lucy Hominin fossil, the spacecraft will embark on its 12-year journey from Cape Canaveral towards the asteroid group. This mission is first of a kind for NASA and is of immense importance as studying these primordial bodies will help us learn a lot about the ancient bodies in space and the history of space itself. Harold Levison, the Principal Investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said,

“The Trojans hold vital clues to the origin of the Solar System because they are leftover remnants from, and so were witnesses to, the process that built the planets.”

The asteroids in the Trojan Cloud reflect only about four to five percent of the light. Thus, these rocks are extremely dark: darker than black pavement on a roadside. The reason which keeps these rocks from reflecting light remains a mystery and scientists hope to unravel it with this mission. A theory suggests that the asteroids may contain organic compounds on the surface and may very well be building blocks of life somewhere in the endless void. Data collection is a critical aspect of this mission’s success and for this purpose, Lucy is equipped with four rather unique instruments: Multi-spectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), a multi-color imager, a Thermal Emission Spectrometer, and a Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA).

The spacecraft is designed to take high-definition photos of its targets. The visual data will be used in conjunction with the radio data to get the measurements of the rocks. This will return the masses and densities of these celestial bodies. Infrared telescope techniques are used in modern day space research. The infrared spectrum data can be broken down into its constituent colors by a method, called Spectroscopy. During its journey, Lucy will first encounter 52246 Donald Johanson, a small asteroid. The spacecraft will use its instruments to gather information about the composition of the rock. After finishing its data collection on the asteroid, Lucy will move towards the L4 Trojan cloud and resume its mission there. Keith Noll, the Project Scientist of Lucy described that by saying,

“We see variation in the properties we can measure from the Earth and we would like to know the physical basis behind this variation. A mission to a single object would not have allowed that kind of comparison – by sampling a diverse set of objects, Lucy will provide a better basis for understanding what we are seeing in the broader population.”

Levison talked about the feasibility of exploring these parts of space and suggested that the location of these asteroids is quite suitable for sending a spacecraft. He elaborated that in the following words:

“These asteroids represent objects that formed in a very interesting region of the solar system and are now trapped in a place where it’s easy for us to send a spacecraft to go and study them. Those are the two major goals of Lucy.”

Lucy is one of the few missions from NASA which were aimed at studying the ancient artifacts of space. Lucy will go down in history along with the Dawn mission as being the most ambitious missions by NASA. The massive scale of space dwarfs the history of human existence. The mission will gather a great deal of data about the chemical compositions of these ancient bodies and provide us with the answer to a lot of questions asked about space and its origins.

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