NASA launches ‘Lucy’ mission to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

NASA said that the space exploration, named Lucy and packed inside a unique cargo capsule, lifted off on schedule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT).

On Saturday, NASA launched the first-of-its-kind mission to analyse Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, two huge clusters of space rocks that experts consider are parts of the primordial substance that created the solar system’s outer planets.

NASA said that the space exploration, named Lucy and packed inside a unique cargo capsule, lifted off on schedule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT). It was carried over by an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance (UAL), a shared enterprise of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Lucy’s mission is a 12-year excursion to investigate a record number of asteroids. It will be the first to investigate the Trojans, thousands of rocky objects orbiting the sun in two packs, one ahead of the path of the giant gas planet Jupiter and one behind it.

The largest known Trojan asteroids, defined for the warriors of Greek mythology, are assumed to scale as much as 225 kilometres (140 miles) in diameter. Scientists wish Lucy’s close-up fly-by of seven Trojans would produce further hints to how the solar system’s planets came to be created some 4.5 billion years ago and what developed their present arrangement.

Considered rich in carbon compounds, the asteroids may even contribute new perspicacity into the beginning of organic materials and life on Earth, NASA said.

“The Trojan asteroids are leftovers from the early days of our solar system, effectively the fossils of planet formation,” principal mission investigator Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, was quoted by NASA as saying.

NASA said no other exclusive science mission had been planned to visit as many various objects individually orbiting the sun in the history of space travel.

As well as the Trojans, Lucy will make a fly-by of an asteroid in the solar system’s central asteroid belt, named Donald Johanson, in honour of the front discoverer of the fossilised human ancestor known as Lucy, from which the NASA mission takes its name.

The Lucy fossil, discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, was named for the Beatles hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Lucy, the asteroid exploration will make spaceflight history differently. According to NASA, following a path that circles back to Earth three times for gravitational assists, it will be the first spacecraft ever to retreat to Earth’s proximity from the outer solar system.

The exploration will use rocket thrusters to move in space and two rounded solar arrays, each the width of a school bus, to recharge batteries that will power the instruments contained in the much smaller central body of the spacecraft.

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