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NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft on its Way to Asteroid Dinkinesh


Introduction

The Lucy spacecraft, a mission by NASA, is currently on its way to explore asteroids within Jupiter’s orbit. Its main goal is to study two swarms of asteroids known as the Trojan asteroids, which travel along Jupiter’s orbit around the sun. However, before reaching its main targets, Lucy will make a stop at the small asteroid Dinkinesh located in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Testing Instruments and Scientific Observations

On 1 November, Lucy will pass within 430 kilometers of Dinkinesh, allowing scientists to test the spacecraft’s instruments and gather valuable scientific observations. This flyby will be crucial in ensuring that all of Lucy’s scientific instruments are functioning properly for its upcoming exploration of the Trojan asteroids.

The Importance of Dinkinesh

Dinkinesh, with a width of less than 1 kilometer, is relatively small and barely visible from Earth. This flyby presents a unique opportunity to study its surface and gather data that can contribute to our understanding of asteroids in the main asteroid belt. Additionally, the tracking system used to keep Dinkinesh within the spacecraft’s field of vision will be tested, as precision is crucial when approaching such small objects at high speeds.

Improving the Tracking System

Noemí Pinilla-Alonso, a researcher at the University of Central Florida, highlights the importance of testing the tracking system during this flyby. By assessing its performance and making necessary improvements, the team can ensure that they do not miss their targets when exploring the Trojan asteroids.

Potential Scientific Discoveries

Although this flyby primarily focuses on testing, Lucy’s scientific instruments may still provide valuable insights. By examining the shape of Dinkinesh and comparing it to other similar-sized asteroids that have been studied near Earth, researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the asteroid’s characteristics and its role in the formation and evolution of our solar system.

The Future of Lucy

After the Dinkinesh flyby, Lucy’s next major event is a pass by Earth in December 2024. This will be followed by a visit to another asteroid in the main asteroid belt in 2025. Ultimately, Lucy will embark on a two-year-long journey to Jupiter and its Trojans. Scientists anticipate that studying these asteroids up close will provide valuable insights into the processes of planet formation and the dynamics of the early solar system.

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