On October 16, NASA launched a space probe named Lucy from Cape Canaveral, Florida into outer space with the intent of visiting several asteroids in order to gain a better understanding of how the solar system formed billions of years ago and why every celestial entity is in its current configuration. The probe is scheduled to visit eight total asteroids—one Main Belt asteroid and seven other Jupiter trojans, which are believed to be several of the earliest “fossilized remnants” in the solar system—in the span of 12 years.
NASA’s mission and space probe was named after AL 288-1, nicknamed “Lucy”, one of the oldest discovered and theorized fossilized human ancestor of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis found in modern-day Ethiopia. According to NASA, just as Lucy’s “skeleton provided unique insight into humanity's [evolution,] the Lucy mission will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system.”
Lucy’s technological components are some of the most advanced of its kind. The most notable elements include several cameras and thermometers that will aid in the mission to accurately view the asteroids. The L’Ralph instrument, an exceptional camera that is adept at taking photos on the visible and infrared light spectrums, and the L’TES, which is a refined thermometer capable of measuring infrared solar energy, will be useful in identifying ice, minerals, and organic matter on the asteroids. The space probe also includes L’LORRI, an incredibly sensitive camera that is capable of taking extremely detailed, high resolution images, which will be helpful in producing high quality images of the asteroids’ surfaces. This instrument will also be imperative in allowing the space probe to navigate throughout space with its ability to see far distances.
As Lucy was sent into orbit and scheduled to unwind both of its solar arrays, which provide solar-powered energy to the probe, it was noticed later that one of them had failed to fully secure itself. As a result, NASA had left the probe in “cruise mode” and is currently working on several options to manage this minor hindrance. Fortunately, Lucy “is safe & stable” at the moment, as mentioned in a tweet by Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science. He also confidently expresses, “[The] team has overcome many challenges already and I am confident they will prevail here as well.”
The Lucy mission is one of the first of its kind for NASA, and its success will likely become the dawn of many more similar projects to come. Not to mention the valuable insight the project personnel may receive will be momentous in advancing data and new theories about the universe as a whole. Tom Statler, a Lucy project scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington excitedly expresses, “With Lucy, we’re going to eight never-before-seen asteroids in 12 years with a single spacecraft. This is a fantastic opportunity for discovery as we probe into our solar system’s distant past.”