New York (dpa) – NASA’s Lucy probe brought back a big surprise from its first close flyby of an asteroid. The US space agency NASA said that the first images sent by “Lucy” to Earth showed that “Dinkenish” was not a single asteroid, but rather a pair of asteroids.
According to preliminary estimates, the circumference of the larger asteroid is about 790 metres, while the circumference of the smaller asteroid is about 220 metres. In recent weeks, data from Lucy’s science instruments have led scientists to believe that Dinkenish may be a pair of asteroids. Photos taken during the flight on Wednesday confirmed this consideration.
NASA: Initial results are promising
“Lucy” flew next to “Dinkenish” on Wednesday, about 400 kilometers away, at a speed of about 16,000 kilometers per hour. It was a test flight to see if the probe’s scientific instruments worked. NASA said the initial results are promising. However, it may take about a week to send all the collected data back to Earth.
“Lucy” was launched in 2021 from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in the US state of Florida. The more than 14-metre-long probe, powered by fuel and batteries that can be recharged via solar cells, is already on its way to Jupiter’s asteroids and is supposed to fly by seven of Jupiter’s so-called Trojans: Eurybates. Queta, Polymele, Leucus, Orus, Patroclus, and Menoetius – all named after heroes from Homer’s ancient epic “The Iliad.”
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.
Lucy is expected to travel a distance of 6.5 billion kilometers
In addition, “Lucy” will be the first probe in the history of space travel to return to the Earth’s vicinity three times in order to obtain gravitational support 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 NASA’s probe – has been nicknamed “Lucy.” According to NASA, the reason is simple: “Just as the Lucy fossil has provided unique insights into human evolution, the Lucy mission promises to revolutionize our knowledge of planetary and solar system formation.”
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