- The NASA probe “Lucy” has visited its first asteroid. The US space agency Nasa said the probe flew past the asteroid “Dinkinesh” at a distance of around 400 kilometers and successfully completed the maneuver.
- It will now take about a week until all the data collected is sent to Earth.
- The Dinkinesh, less than a kilometer in diameter, is the first of about ten asteroids that the probe will study – and the flyby was mainly a test of whether the scientific instruments on board the probe are working. Their actual target is the asteroids of Jupiter.
“Lucy” was launched in 2021 from the Cape Canaveral spaceport in the US state of Florida. The probe is more than 14 meters long and runs on fuel and batteries charged via solar cells. It is said to fly close to seven of the so-called Jupiter Trojans: Eurybates, Queta, Polymele, Leucus, Orus, Patroclus and Menoetius. All are named after characters from the ancient legend “Iliad” by Homer.
In addition, “Lucy” will be the first probe in the history of space travel to return close to the Earth three times in order to obtain support from Earth’s gravity for its flight. The mission is scheduled to last twelve years, and “Lucy” is expected to cover a total of around 6.5 billion kilometers.
Name after Beatels song
The name of the probe is taken from the Beatles song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. This song is said to have blared from a cassette recorder when researchers discovered parts of the skeleton of a female pre-human in Ethiopia’s Afar Triangle in 1974. The find proved for the first time that the forerunners of today’s humans walked upright around three million years ago.
“Fossils of the formation of planets”
The Jupiter Trojans are asteroids that orbit the sun in the same orbit as Jupiter – one swarm precedes it, one follows it. They are considered “fossils of the formation of planets,” which is why NASA hopes the mission will provide new insights into the formation of planets and our solar system.
The fossil – and now also the NASA probe – was nicknamed “Lucy”. According to NASA, the reason is simple: “Just as the ‘Lucy’ fossil provided unique insights into human development, the ‘Lucy’ mission promises to revolutionize our knowledge of the formation of the planets and the solar system.”