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NASA Launches First Mission to Jupiter’s Asteroid Swarms

NASA Launches First Mission to Jupiter’s Asteroid Swarms

On Saturday, NASA launched its first mission exploring Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid swarms, named for the Trojan War by the astronomer who originally identified their orbits, according to The Verge.

Over the course of the 12-year mission, the unmanned spacecraft Lucy will target the ancient space rocks with the intent to unveil more information about our solar system, according to CNN. Until now, only animation and artistic sketches have depicted the asteroids. 

“At the heart of Lucy is the science and how it’s going to talk to us about the Trojans,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “It’s so important to go observe them because these asteroids tell us about a chapter of our own story – in this case, the history when the outer planets were forming in the solar system. I’m still amazed by the fact that if you pick up a rock or you look at one of those planetary bodies and you add science to it, it turns into a history book.”

Scientists say there are around 7,000 Trojan asteroids, which are effectively ‘building blocks’ left over from our solar system’s formation. The rocks vary in color and size. Those that Lucy is scheduled to visit are named for heroes from Homer’s “The Iliad,” including: Eurybates, Leucus, Patroclus, and Menoetius.

Moving at about 400,000 miles an hour – or 17,881.6 meters per second – Lucy will travel nearly four billion miles during the mission, making a total of three Earth flybys for gravity assists that will serve as a slingshot to propel the spacecraft back out toward its next target.

If all goes according to plan, Lucy will be the first spacecraft to travel all the way to Jupiter and be able to return to Earth.

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