NASA’s Lucy mission, which embarked on its journey in October 2021, has had its inaugural encounter with an asteroid. The spacecraft recently flew by the asteroid Dinkinesh, and NASA confirmed the successful completion of this flyby.
During its closest approach, Lucy was anticipated to be within 265 miles of Dinkinesh’s surface. Over the coming days, the data and images captured during this flyby will be transmitted back to Earth. Dinkinesh, with a width of about half a mile, resides in the primary asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. This asteroid was first identified in 1999 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program, a joint initiative by NASA, the US Air Force, and MIT.
Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, expressed excitement about the mission, stating that Dinkinesh, which was previously just a blurry spot in telescopes, will now be unveiled to humanity in detail.
This flyby of Dinkinesh is the first of 10 asteroids that Lucy will approach during its 12-year expedition. Unlike other asteroid missions, Lucy will not orbit these space rocks but will fly by them at speeds of about 10,000 miles per hour.
The primary objective of the Lucy mission is to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, which have remained unexplored until now. These asteroids, named after figures from Greek mythology, orbit the sun in two groups, one leading Jupiter and the other trailing it.
Before delving into the mysteries of the Trojans, Lucy is honing its instruments by flying by asteroids like Dinkinesh and another asteroid named Donaldjohanson, which is scheduled for 2025.
The data from Dinkinesh’s flyby will assist astronomers in understanding the connection between larger main belt asteroids and smaller near-Earth asteroids, some of which might pose threats to Earth.
In the coming years, Lucy will use Earth’s gravity to propel itself towards the main asteroid belt for the 2025 Donaldjohanson flyby, eventually reaching the Trojan asteroids in 2027. The mission aims to provide insights into the formation of our solar system and the current positions of our planets.