December 6, 2023

NASA’s Lucy probe flew close to the Dinkenish asteroid.

NASA’s Lucy probe visited its first asteroid. The US space agency NASA said that the probe flew near the asteroid “Dinkenish” on Wednesday, at a distance of about 400 kilometers, and completed the maneuver successfully. It will now take about a week to send all the collected data back to Earth. Dinkenish, which has a diameter of less than a kilometer, is the first of about a dozen asteroids that the probe intends to examine – and the flyby is essentially a test to see whether the scientific instruments on board the probe are working or not. Their actual target is Jupiter’s asteroids.

“Lucy” was launched in 2021 from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in the US state of Florida. The more than 14-meter-long probe, powered by fuel and batteries that can be recharged via solar cells, aims to fly by seven of the so-called Trojan Jupiters: Eurybates, Queta, Polymel, Leucus, Aurus, Patroclus and Menoetius – they have been named. All named after the heroes of the ancient myth “The Iliad” by Homer.

Jupiter Trojans are asteroids that orbit the Sun in the same orbit as Jupiter – preceded by one swarm and followed by another swarm. They are considered “planet formation fossils,” which is why NASA hopes the mission will provide new insights into the formation of planets and our solar system.

In addition, “Lucy” will be the first probe in the history of space travel to return close to Earth three times in order to obtain support from Earth’s gravity for its journey. The mission is scheduled to last twelve years, and Lucy is expected to cover a total of about 6.5 billion kilometers.

The probe’s name is taken from the Beatles song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. It is said to have been triggered by a recording device when researchers discovered parts of the skeleton of a pre-human female in Ethiopia’s Afar Triangle in 1974. This discovery proved for the first time that the ancestors of today’s humans were able to walk upright about three million years ago.

The fossil – and now also a NASA probe – has been nicknamed “Lucy.” According to NASA, the reason is simple: “Just as the Lucy fossil has provided unique insights into human development, the Lucy mission promises to revolutionize our knowledge of planetary and solar system formation.” (DAP/EPA)

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