NASA’s Lucy probe is set to make its first flyby of the asteroid Dinkinesh on November 1, marking a significant milestone in its mission to explore the main asteroid belt. This region, situated between Mars and Jupiter, is home to numerous celestial objects, and Dinkinesh is just one of the many targets on Lucy’s itinerary.
Originally, the Lucy mission did not include a visit to Dinkinesh. However, in a surprising twist, scientists decided to add this asteroid to the schedule in January 2023. This decision was made to maximize the scientific potential of the mission and provide additional valuable data.
During the flyby, Lucy will put its Terminal Tracking System to the test. This system ensures that the probe’s instruments remain accurately pointed at the asteroid, allowing for precise measurements and observations. Considered a “dress rehearsal,” this encounter with Dinkinesh will serve as valuable practice for Lucy’s subsequent encounters with its main scientific targets.
What sets Dinkinesh apart from the other asteroids in Lucy’s path is its smaller size. This makes the flyby particularly challenging for the probe, as it must navigate through a more confined and potentially hazardous environment. Nevertheless, the team is optimistic about the mission’s success.
Following its rendezvous with Dinkinesh, Lucy will return to Earth in December 2024 to receive a gravity assist. This maneuver will propel the probe towards its ultimate destination, the Trojan asteroids. The Trojan asteroids are clusters of objects that share the same orbit as Jupiter, making them a fascinating subject of study for scientists.
Dinkinesh’s name holds special significance, as it is derived from the famous human-ancestor fossil, Lucy. The team affectionately refers to the asteroid as “Dinky,” adding a personal touch to their journey of exploration and discovery.
As Lucy continues its mission, scientists eagerly await the data and insights it will provide about asteroids and the early solar system. With each flyby, the probe delves deeper into the mysteries of our celestial neighborhood, unraveling the secrets of the universe one asteroid at a time. Stay tuned for more updates on Lucy’s remarkable journey through space.