Photos of Lucy’s first target

NASA has published an animation made up of two images of the Lucy probe. It demonstrates the movement of the asteroid Dinkinesh, which will be the first target of an interplanetary scout.

Movement of the asteroid Dinkinesh. Source:  NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL

The Lucy mission was launched in October 2021. Its purpose is to study Trojan asteroids in the Jupiter orbit. This is how astronomers call two large groups of objects that are constantly located in the vicinity of the Lagrange points L₄ and L₅ of the Sun-Jupiter system.

On the way to the Lagrange points, Lucy will pass through the Main Asteroid Belt several times. After the launch of the spacecraft, the mission specialists decided to look for passing objects that could become additional targets for the spacecraft. Success awaited them. Scientists have discovered that the small asteroid 1999 VD57, about a kilometer in diameter, is in the range of the probe. After that, they adjusted the course of Lucy, and the previously unremarkable rock received a full name. It was named Dinkinesh. This is what they call Lucy in Ethiopia — the skeleton of an Australopithecus discovered in 1974, which has become one of the most important anthropological finds in history. The Lucy mission was named after it.

Comparison of the sizes of the asteroids Steins, Dinkinesh and Bennu. Source: ESA/OSIRIS team, Image of Bennu: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Lucy photographed Dinkinesh on September 2 and 5. At the time of the photographing, it was at a distance of 23 million km from the asteroid. Over the next two months, Lucy will gradually reduce the distance to the asteroid. On November 1, it will pass at a distance of 425 km from its surface.

Engineers use a rendezvous with Dinkinesh for training. They will test the effectiveness of the guidance system of the spacecraft. It is designed to determine the exact location of asteroids, which is required for planning an observation program and setting up cameras. In addition, Lucy will receive spectra and images of the Dinkinesh surface, which will allow to calibrate its scientific instruments and check the effectiveness of their operation. According to experts, it is expected that on the best of the images, the size of the asteroid will be one hundred pixels.

After that, Lucy will continue its journey. In 2024, the probe will perform a gravitational maneuver in the vicinity of the Earth; in 2025, it will fly over another of the associated asteroids of the Main Belt; and in 2027, it will finally reach the first of two clusters of Trojan asteroids of Jupiter.

According to

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