NASA launches first area probe to review Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids By Reuters

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© Reuters. The capsule carrying NASA’s Lucy spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance Atlas-5 rocket for a mission to study Trojan asteroids in the outer solar system stands on pad 41 in preparation for launch at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral

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(Reuters) – NASA launched a first-of-its-kind mission on Saturday to examine Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, two large collections of space rocks that scientists believe are remnants of the primordial material that made up the solar system’s outer planets.

The spacecraft, named Lucy and packed in a special cargo capsule, took off on schedule at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, NASA said. It was launched by an Atlas (NYSE 🙂 V rocket from the United Launch Alliance (UAL), a joint venture between Boeing (NYSE 🙂 Co and Lockheed Martin Corp (NYSE :).

Lucy’s mission is a 12-year expedition to explore a record number of asteroids. It will be the first to study the Trojans, thousands of rocky objects orbiting the sun in two swarms – one in front of the path of the giant gas planet Jupiter and one behind it.

The largest known Trojan asteroids, named after the warriors of Greek mythology, are said to have a diameter of up to 225 kilometers.

Scientists hope that Lucy’s flyby of seven Trojans will provide new clues about how the planets of the solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago and how their current configuration was shaped.

The asteroids are said to be rich in carbon compounds and could even provide new insights into the origins of organic materials and life on Earth, NASA said.

“The Trojan asteroids are holdovers from the beginnings of our solar system, practically the fossils of planet formation,” said NASA’s principal researcher, Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

No other single scientific mission in the history of space exploration has been designed to visit so many different objects independently orbiting the sun, NASA said.

In addition to the Trojans, Lucy will fly past an asteroid in the main asteroid belt of the solar system named DonaldJohanson in honor of the leading discoverer of the fossilized human ancestor named Lucy, from whom the NASA mission takes its name. The Lucy fossil, unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974, was named after the Beatles hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.

Lucy, the asteroid probe, will make space history in a different way. After a route that orbits three times back to Earth to aid gravity, it will be the first spacecraft ever to return from the outer solar system to near Earth, according to NASA.

The probe will use rocket engines to maneuver in space and two rounded solar cells, each the width of a school bus, to charge batteries that power the instruments in the spacecraft’s much smaller central body.

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