A NASA spacecraft named Lucy exploded in the sky with diamonds on Saturday morning in a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids.
Seven of the mysterious space rocks are among the asteroid swarms sharing Jupiter’s orbit, believed to be the pristine remnants of the planetary formation.
An Atlas V rocket took off before dawn, sending Lucy on a detour of nearly 6.3 billion kilometers. Researchers became moved as they described the successful launch – lead scientist Hal Levison said it was like witnessing the birth of a child. âCome on Lucy! He insisted.
Lucy is named after the 3.2 million year old skeletal remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia almost half a century ago. This discovery takes its name from the 1967 Beatles song Lucy in the sky with Diamonds, prompting NASA to send the spacecraft soaring with the words of group members and words of wisdom from other luminaries printed on a plaque. The spacecraft also carried a disc made of lab-grown diamonds for one of its scientific instruments.
In a video pre-recorded for NASA, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr paid tribute to his late colleague John Lennon, who sang the song that inspired it all.
âI’m so excited – Lucy is going back to the sky with diamonds. Johnny is going to love this,â Starr said. “Anyway, if you meet anyone up there, Lucy, give them peace and love from me.”
The paleoanthropologist behind the discovery of Lucy’s fossil, Donald Johanson, had goosebumps watching Lucy fly away. âI will never look at Jupiter the same way againâ¦ absolutely breathtaking,â Johanson said. He said he was amazed by this “intersection of our past, our present and our future”.
“That a human ancestor who lived so long ago spurred a mission that promises to add valuable information about the formation of our solar system is incredibly exciting,” said Johanson, of Arizona State University, who traveled to Cape Canaveral, Florida for their first rocket launch.
The spaceship #LucyMission has successfully deployed its solar panels, and now its epic journey to Jupiter The Trojan asteroids are officially underway.
Lucy’s $ 981 million U.S. mission is the first to target Jupiter’s so-called Trojan entourage: thousands, if not millions, of asteroids that share the gas giant’s vast orbit around the sun. Some Trojan asteroids precede Jupiter in its orbit, while others follow it.
Despite their orbits, Trojans are far from the planet and for the most part scattered far from each other. So there’s virtually no chance that Lucy will get run over by one as she passes her targets, said Levison of the Southwest Research Institute, the mission’s lead scientist.
Plan to leave Jupiter’s orbit in 2024
Lucy will pass Earth next October and again in 2024 to get enough gravitational force to get to Jupiter’s orbit. On the way, the spacecraft will pass asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson between Mars and Jupiter. The aptly named rock will serve as the 2025 warm-up for scientific instruments.
Drawing energy from two huge circular solar wings, Lucy will hunt five asteroids in the trojan’s leading pack in the late 2020s. The spacecraft will then zoom out to Earth for another gravitational assist in 2030. This will do this. will send Lucy back to the group of Trojans, where she will pass the last two targets in 2033 for a record eight asteroids visited in a single mission.
It’s a complicated and roundabout path that first made NASA’s science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen shake his head. âYou must be kidding. It’s possible ? he remembers asking.
Lucy will pass within 965 kilometers of each target; the largest is about 113 kilometers in diameter.
“Are there mountains? Valleys? Pits? Mesas? Who knows? I’m sure we’re going to be surprised,” said Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, head of black and white camera at Lucy. “But we can’t wait to see what … the images reveal about these fossils from the formation of the solar system.”
NASA plans to launch another mission next month to test whether humans might be able to alter an asteroid’s orbit – handy in case Earth ever has a killer rock headed that way.