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SwRI-Led Lucy Mission Now Has A New Destination

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This artist’s idea reveals one in every of now eight objects NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will fly by throughout its 12-year, Four-billion-mile journey. The SwRI-led mission not too long ago found that one of many Trojan asteroids orbiting in tandem with Jupiter has a small satellite tv for pc. Picture Credit score: NASA/SwRI

January 9, 2020 – Lower than two years earlier than launch, scientists related to NASA’s Lucy mission, led by Southwest Analysis Institute, have found an extra small asteroid that will likely be visited by the Lucy spacecraft. Set to launch in 2021, its 12-year journey of virtually Four billion miles will discover the Trojan asteroids, a inhabitants of historical small our bodies that share an orbit with Jupiter.

This primary-ever mission to the
Trojans was already going to interrupt information by visiting seven asteroids
throughout a single mission. Now, utilizing knowledge from the Hubble Area Telescope
(HST), the Lucy staff found that the primary Trojan goal,
Eurybates, has a satellite tv for pc. This discovery supplies an extra object
for Lucy to check.

“If I needed to wager that one in every of our locations
had a satellite tv for pc, it will have been this one,” mentioned SwRI’s Hal Levison,
principal investigator of the mission. “Eurybates is taken into account the
largest remnant of a large collision that occurred billions of years
in the past. Simulations present that asteroid collisions just like the one which made
Eurybates and its household typically produce small satellites.”

This
correlates with massive Kuiper Belt objects considered cousins to the
Trojans, which present proof of each large collisions and small
satellites.

“On the Lucy science staff assembly final November, my
colleague Keith Noll identified a suspicious-looking spot subsequent to an
picture of Eurybates. I rapidly downloaded the subsequent set of knowledge and
realized that the spot was nonetheless there, nevertheless it had moved, similar to a
satellite tv for pc would,” mentioned Caltech’s Mike Brown, a Lucy science staff member.

Hubble photographs of Eurybates and its newly found satellite tv for pc proven on this animated gif alternate between the Jan. three, 2020, detection of the satellite tv for pc (circled in inexperienced) and the Dec. 11, 2019, knowledge when the satellite tv for pc was too near the first to be noticed. Picture Credit score: NASA/HST/Noll

“We
requested for extra HST time to verify the existence of the satellite tv for pc, and
we got three tries,” mentioned Noll, Goddard Spaceflight Middle’s
challenge scientist for the mission. “Within the first two observations, we
didn’t see something, so we started to suppose we may be unfortunate. However on
the third orbit, there it was!”

The small object was tough to
spot, partially, as a result of Eurybates is 6,000 instances brighter than its
satellite tv for pc. This means that it’s lower than 1 km (zero.5 miles) throughout,
which, if right, would make it among the many smallest objects ever visited
by a spacecraft.

“Earlier than we believed that it was truly actual,
we needed to be sure that a single satellite tv for pc may truly match all of
the information,” mentioned SwRI’s Cathy Olkin, deputy principal investigator of the
Lucy mission. “Utilizing pc simulations, we demonstrated many
attainable satellite tv for pc orbits that match each the observations the place we are able to
see the satellite tv for pc, in addition to the instances once we don’t.” 

Whereas the
present knowledge are sufficient to verify the existence of the satellite tv for pc, the
Lucy staff will accumulate extra HST knowledge later this 12 months to raised
perceive the item’s orbit.

SwRI is the Lucy mission principal
investigator establishment and leads the science investigation. Goddard
Spaceflight Middle supplies general mission administration, techniques
engineering, and security and mission assurance.


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