Tomorrow morning, around 7:04 am EDT, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will travel through Earth’s atmosphere, passing just 220 miles above the planet’s surface. According to the agency, the spacecraft will slingshot past his home to gain some of the orbital energy it needs to travel to a never-before-visited asteroid population. Additionally, this flyby is also a bit celebratory as Sunday is the first anniversary of Lucy’s launch into space.
At around 6:55 am EDT, Lucy makes her ground observers debut in Western Australia (where it will be 6:55 pm). The spacecraft will quickly pass over her head and she will be visible without a telescope or binoculars before disappearing at 7:02 EDT, when she passes into the shadow of the Earth. Lucy will continue her journey across the Pacific Ocean and emerge from the shadow of the Earth at 7:26 am EDT (a bright and early 4:26 PTD). Those in the western United States could catch a glimpse of the spacecraft with binoculars around that time, as long as cloud cover is low.
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“The last time we saw the spacecraft, it was encased in the payload fairing in Florida,” said Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) office in Boulder, Colorado, USA. a press release. “It is exciting to be able to stay here in Colorado and see the spaceship again. And this time Lucy will be in heaven. ‘
After floating on the west coast, Lucy will quickly move away from the vicinity of Earth. She will pass the moon to acquire some more calibration images before continuing into interplanetary space.
“I am particularly excited about the latest images Lucy will be taking from the moon,” said John Spencer, deputy project scientist at SwRI, in a press release. “Counting craters to understand the history of Trojan asteroid collisions is the key to the science that Lucy will conduct and this will be the first opportunity to calibrate Lucy’s ability to detect craters by comparing it to previous observations of the moon by other missions. space. “
[Related: This small asteroid has a tiny moon of its own.]
A year after a 12-year journey, NASA’s Lucy mission is the first spacecraft launched to explore Trojan asteroids. These are a group of primitive space rocks orbiting Jupiter. Sunday’s assistance from Earth’s gravitational field will place Lucy on a new trajectory for an orbit that will last two years.
In 2024, she will return to Earth for a second gravity boost that will give Lucy the energy needed to traverse the solar system’s main asteroid belt. Once there, she will observe asteroid Donaldjohanson and then travel to the main Trojan asteroid swarm. After that, the spacecraft will fly over six Trojan asteroids: Eurybates and her satellite Queta, Polymele and her as-yet-unnamed satellite, Leucus and Orus. In 2030, Lucy will return to Earth for another jump that will prepare her for a rendezvous with the pair of binary asteroids Patroclus-Minusethius in the Trojan asteroid swarm.
Lucy’s current trajectory will take the spacecraft even lower than the International Space Station. This means that the probe will pass through many satellites and debris orbiting the Earth. NASA has developed procedures to anticipate potential hazards and can move Lucy aside if necessary to avoid a collision.