NASA’s Lucy probe is set to make a historic flyby of the asteroid Dinkinesh on November 1st, marking the first stop in its groundbreaking mission to explore ten space rocks. Located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Dinkinesh was added to Lucy’s itinerary in January 2023.
Lucy’s future destinations are Trojan asteroids, which share the orbit of Jupiter. However, before reaching these scientific targets, the encounter with Dinkinesh will serve as a crucial “dress rehearsal” for the probe. During this encounter, Lucy will put its innovative Terminal Tracking System to the test.
The approach to Dinkinesh will not be for the faint-hearted, as Lucy races towards the asteroid at a staggering speed of 10,000 mph, equivalent to six times the velocity of a bullet. This impressive velocity reflects the determination to gather valuable data about these celestial bodies.
What makes the encounter with Dinkinesh even more significant is the fact that it is the smallest main belt asteroid ever imaged up close by a spacecraft. This unprecedented opportunity will provide scientists with invaluable insights into the composition and structure of these enigmatic objects.
Following the encounter, Lucy will make a return journey to Earth in December 2024 to gain a gravity assist. This maneuver will boost the probe’s speed and allow it to continue its epic journey to the Trojan asteroids and other intriguing destinations.
The choice to name this particular asteroid Dinkinesh holds great significance as it pays tribute to the famous human-ancestor fossil that was discovered in Ethiopia. Just as the fossil revolutionized our understanding of human evolution, the encounter with Dinkinesh is expected to revolutionize our knowledge of the solar system and its origins.
NASA’s Lucy probe is pushing the boundaries of space exploration, embarking on an awe-inspiring mission to unlock the secrets of our cosmic neighborhood. With its upcoming encounter with Dinkinesh as the starting point, Lucy is set to rewrite the books on what we know about asteroids and their role in our universe.
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