NASA’s upcoming mission to explore asteroids to learn about the earliest ages of our solar system is set to launch. The spacecraft, named Lucy, is expected to fly this week on a mission that is estimated to take 12 years. The spacecraft is looking at a possible launch date of October 16 and will travel to the outer solar system during the 12-year project window. Once in the outer Solar System, Lucy will discover more than seven ancient asteroids, known as Trojan asteroids, that orbit the Sun.
Trojan asteroids orbit the same path as Jupiter. By discovering them, Lucy will also be the first spacecraft to visit asteroids in the region. The spacecraft will obtain data that will help scientists delve deeper into the ancient history of the solar system, which in turn could help understand more information about the universe.
NASA describes Trojan asteroids as “time capsules from the birth of our solar system”. According to the space agency, Trojan asteroids “circle the Sun in two clusters, with one group ahead of Jupiter, the other behind it.” They are named after characters from Greek mythology.
Speaking about the project, NASA scientist Tom Statler said in a statement, “Together with Lucy, we are visiting eight never-before-seen asteroids with a single spacecraft in 12 years. This is a must-see for discovery.” It’s a great opportunity as we probe into the distant past of our solar system.”
The mission takes its name from a fossil human ancestor, whose skeletons provided unique insights into the evolution of humanity. Her discoverers had dubbed the skeleton “Lucy”. Drawing a parallel, NASA believes that Lucy’s mission will “revolutionize our knowledge of the origins of the planets and the formation of the Solar System.”
NASA says that over the course of 12 years, Lucy will detect “a record-breaking number of asteroids.” “The spacecraft will fly by one asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids in the main belt of the Solar System. Lucy’s path to gravity assist will circle Earth three times, making it the first spacecraft to return from the outer solar system to the vicinity of our planet.
You too can be a part of the historic launch by watching it online via NASA TV. Liftoff is currently scheduled for October 16 at 2:34 a.m. PT (3:04 a.m. IST).