NASA’s Lucy mission closely flew by the asteroid Dinkinesh

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The NASA Lucy mission had its first encounter with an area rock.

The spacecraft, launched in October 2021, efficiently accomplished a flyby of the small asteroid Dinkinesh, the agency confirmed on Wednesday.

Lucy was anticipated to come back inside 265 miles (425 kilometers) of the asteroid’s floor throughout its closest method, estimated to happen at 12:54 p.m. ET. The info and pictures will return to Earth over the following a number of days.

Dinkinesh is about half a mile (1 kilometer) broad and is located in the primary asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The house rock was first found in 1999 by the Lincoln Close to-Earth Asteroid Analysis, or LINEAR, program, which is a collaboration of NASA, the US Air Drive and the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise aiming to determine probably hazardous asteroids.

“That is the primary time Lucy will probably be getting an in depth take a look at an object that, up so far, has solely been an unresolved smudge in the perfect telescopes,” stated Hal Levison, Lucy principal investigator on the Southwest Analysis Institute in San Antonio, in an announcement. “Dinkinesh is about to be revealed to humanity for the primary time.”

Dinkinesh was the primary of 10 asteroids that Lucy will fly by over the course of its 12-year journey. Somewhat than pausing to orbit every asteroid — like different latest missions to house rocks, comparable to OSIRIS-REx — Lucy will fly by the house rocks at about 10,000 miles per hour (4.5 kilometers per second).

The shut method helped the Lucy spacecraft check its suite of apparatus. Info collected on Dinkinesh may also assist astronomers to find out how bigger principal belt asteroids could also be linked to small near-Earth asteroids, a few of which might probably pose a menace to our planet.

Lucy’s principal purpose is to discover Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid swarms, which have by no means been explored. The Trojan asteroids, which borrow their identify from Greek mythology, orbit the solar in two swarms — one which’s forward of Jupiter, the biggest planet in our photo voltaic system, and a second one which lags behind it.

Up to now, our principal glimpses of the Trojans have largely been artist renderings or animations as a result of the house rocks are too distant to be seen intimately with telescopes. Lucy will present the primary high-resolution photographs of what these asteroids appear like.

Earlier than exploring the Trojans, Lucy is flexing its devices by flying by Dinkinesh after which one other principal belt asteroid referred to as Donaldjohanson in 2025.

In the course of the flyby of Dinkinesh, the mission’s staff carefully monitored the spacecraft’s programs from Earth, together with its terminal-tracking system, which permits the spacecraft to autonomously find the house rock and maintain it inside view.

Lucy used shade and black-and-white cameras, a thermometer, and an infrared imaging spectrometer to watch the asteroid’s floor. The spacecraft communicated with Earth utilizing its antenna.

New results from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Explorer, or WISE, reveal that the Jovian Trojans - asteroids that lap the sun in the same orbit as Jupiter - are uniformly dark with a hint of burgundy color, and have matte surfaces that reflect little sunlight. The results are illustrated in this artist's concept, showing both the leading and trailing packs of Trojans in orbit with Jupiter. Observations from WISE also confirmed the previous suspicion that there are more asteroids in the leading pack of Trojans (seen in the distance) than the trailing bunch.
The results are helping astronomers fill in missing pieces of the ongoing Jupiter Trojan puzzle: how and when did these asteroids form?
The data for this research come from the asteroid-hunting portion of the WISE survey, called NEOWISE.

After its closest method of Dinkinesh, the spacecraft was anticipated to proceed to take photographs of the house rock for one more hour, after which periodically over the following 4 days because it transmits information again to Earth.

“We’ll know what the spacecraft needs to be doing always, however Lucy is so distant it takes about half-hour for radio alerts to journey between the spacecraft and Earth, so we will’t command an asteroid encounter interactively,” stated Mark Effertz, Lucy chief engineer at Lockheed Martin House in Littleton, Colorado, in an announcement.

“As a substitute, we pre-program all of the science observations. After the science observations and flyby are full, Lucy will reorient its high-gain antenna towards Earth, after which it would take practically half-hour for the primary sign to make it to Earth.”

Astronomers goal to make use of the information captured from the shut method of Dinkinesh to higher perceive small near-Earth asteroids and whether or not they might originate from bigger principal belt asteroids.

“Dinkinesh is the smallest principal belt asteroid to be studied up-close and will present useful details about any such object,” stated Amy Mainzer, coauthor of a recent study about the asteroid and professor on the College of Arizona, in an announcement. “This inhabitants of main-belt asteroids overlap in dimension with the possibly hazardous near-Earth object inhabitants. Learning Dinkinesh might present insights as to how these small main-belt asteroids type and the place near-Earth asteroids come from.”

Lucy will subsequent observe an orbit across the solar and method Earth to make use of the planet’s gravity to fling it again towards the primary belt for the Donaldjohanson flyby in 2025 earlier than reaching the Trojan asteroids in 2027.

Every of the asteroids Lucy is ready to fly by differ in dimension and shade.

NASA's Lucy mission will explore a record-breaking number of asteroids, flying by one asteroid in the solar system's main asteroid belt, and by seven Trojan asteroids.
This illustration is of the Lucy mission's seven targets: the binary asteroid Patroclus/Menoetius, Eurybates, Orus, Leucus, Polymele, and the main belt asteroid DonaldJohanson.

The mission borrows its identify from the Lucy fossil, the stays of an historical human ancestor found in Ethiopia in 1974. The skeleton has helped researchers piece collectively points of human evolution, and the NASA Lucy staff members hope their mission will obtain an analogous feat relating to the historical past of our photo voltaic system.

There are about 7,000 Trojan asteroids, and the biggest is 160 miles (250 kilometers) throughout. The asteroids are like fossils themselves, representing the leftover materials nonetheless hanging round after the large planets in our photo voltaic system — together with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — shaped.

Regardless that they share an orbit with Jupiter, the asteroids are nonetheless very distant from the planet itself — virtually as distant as Jupiter is from the solar, based on NASA.

The mission will assist researchers successfully peer again in time to find out how the photo voltaic system shaped 4.5 billion years in the past and unlock how our planets ended up of their present spots.

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