Speeding NASA spacecraft snaps photos of the most mysterious asteroids around

    NASA has blasted a spacecraft, traveling at speeds up to 92,000 mph, to the most mysterious asteroids in our solar system.

    Called the Trojan asteroids(opens in a new tab), they are trapped in two swarms — one in front and one behind Jupiter. Crucially, astronomers say these curious space rocks are preserved relics of our early solar system. But we have no close views nor samples. That’s why the Lucy mission, named after the ancient remains of a famous fossilized human skeleton, aims to visit these asteroids, which likely are the smaller building blocks of our diverse planets, including Earth.

    “If we want to understand ourselves, we have to understand these small bodies,” Hal Levison, a planetary scientist who leads the unprecedented mission to investigate the Trojans, told Mashable. “This is the first reconnaissance of the Trojan swarms.”

    And though the Lucy spacecraft is still over 330 million miles from these asteroids, it still captured its first footage of the Trojans, which you can see just below amid a background of stars.


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    The mission to the mysterious asteroids

    The Lucy mission will visit nine different Trojan asteroids over its 12-year mission, beginning in 2027.

    Most of the endeavor will involve traveling to and around the Trojans in a serpentine, looping journey. The craft won’t take any samples, but will swoop in for some close fly-bys of the asteroids. In total, the mission will closely observe the rocks with a slew of different cameras for just around 24 hours. The craft, with vast distances to cover, will be hauling through space, and zooming by these objects.

    “We’re not going to be able to blink,” Levison said.

    “We’re not going to be able to blink.”

    Planetary scientists suspect the Trojans got stuck around Jupiter billions of years ago, some 880 million years after the solar system formed. Before that, they likely roamed the distant icy fringes of our solar system, before an upheaval sent them hurtling near the gas giant Jupiter. That’s why they’re considered largely preserved solar system “fossils.”

    Lucy’s powerful cameras, including a spectrometer that can see what these asteroids are composed of, will observe the rocks’ composition, mass, and geologic history. They’ll see how icy the Trojans are, and how different they are from each other.

    A graphic showing the two swarms of trojan asteroids in our solar system, and the Lucy spacecraft’s journey around them.
    Credit: Southwest Research Institute

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    Levison expects to be surprised by what Lucy beams back. The mission will give scientists unprecedented insight into how our solar system, and humble blue planet, evolved and matured into the eight-planet realm we see today.

    “I can’t wait to see what mysteries the mission uncovers!” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement(opens in a new tab).

    Read the full article here

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