Lucy will take black and white and color images and use a diamond beam splitter to direct far-infrared light onto the asteroids to measure their temperature and map their surface. It will also collect other measurements as it flies by. This data could help scientists understand how the planets might have formed.
Sarah Dodson-Robinson, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware, says Lucy might not just be on a definite schedule if the planets originally formed, however Where.
“If you can pinpoint when the Trojan asteroids formed, then you have some information about when Jupiter formed and you can ask questions like ‘Where did Jupiter go in the solar system?'” She says. “Because it wasn’t always where it is now. It has moved. “
And to determine the age of the asteroids, the spacecraft looks for surface craters that may be no bigger than a soccer field.
“[The Trojans] haven’t seen nearly as many collisions and fractures as some of the other asteroids that are closer to us, ”says Dodson-Robinson. “We may take a look at some of these asteroids as if they were shortly after they were formed.”
On her 4 billion mile journey, Lucy will receive three gravity benefits from Earth, which will use the planet’s gravitational force to alter the spacecraft’s trajectory without depleting its resources. Coralie Adam, assistant director of navigation for the Lucy mission, says each bump will increase the spacecraft’s speed from 200 mph to over 11,000 mph.
“Without this gravity assistance, it would take five times the amount of fuel – or three tons – to achieve Lucy’s goal, which would make the mission impracticable,” Adam said during a technical media briefing also held on October 14th.
Lucy’s mission is slated to end in 2033, but some NASA officials are already confident that the spacecraft will last much longer. “There will still be a good amount of fuel on board,” said Adam. “After the last encounter with the binary asteroids, we plan, as long as the spacecraft is healthy, to propose to NASA that they carry out an expanded mission and research more Trojans.”