On October 16, NASA’s Lucy mission lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The spacecraft is on its way to visit a previously-unexplored region of our outer Solar System: the Trojans.
The Trojans are a set of asteroids orbiting the Sun near Jupiter. Lucy will spend the next 12 years navigating around the asteroids, capturing images of them. Scientists theorize that the Trojans came closer to our planet 4.6 billion years ago when Earth, Jupiter, and other planets were forming from a disk of gas and dust around the newborn Sun. This would mean that gravity pulled the Trojans inwards billions of years ago, so they could offer insights into the distant depths of our Solar System, but at closer range. They could even offer evidence about the origins of our Solar System.
Lucy, named after the 3.2-million-year-old hominid fossil unearthed in 1974, is powered by two 7.3-metre-wide solar panels. One of the notable Trojans scheduled for analysis is Eurybates, a 64-kilometre-wide remnant of a massive cosmic collision, which was discovered last year with the Hubble Space Telescope.
Although we won’t have reports from this mission for many years, it could very well revolutionize our models of how our Solar System formed. “You definitely have to be patient when you’re trying to explore the outer Solar System,” Cathy Olkin, Lucy’s deputy principal investigator, told Scientific American.
Image source: NASA