NASA’s Lucy mission is steadily closing in on its target, the asteroid Dinkinesh, following its initial sighting on September 3. Lucy has already covered an impressive 54 million kilometers and is currently just 7.6 million kilometers away from the space rock. However, the spacecraft still has nearly 25 million kilometers to traverse before its historic rendezvous with the asteroid on November 1.
Over the past month, NASA’s Lucy mission team has been closely monitoring Dinkinesh. They have noticed a gradual increase in its brightness as Lucy draws nearer. Furthermore, the spacecraft has detected subtle variations in brightness, indicating that the asteroid rotates with a period of approximately 52.7 hours.
Since the initial observation of Dinkinesh on September 3, the mission’s team has utilized high-resolution camera images to refine their understanding of the relative positions of the spacecraft and the asteroid. This information has enabled them to precisely guide Lucy toward its upcoming encounter with Dinkinesh.
On September 29, a small trajectory correction maneuver was performed by the spacecraft, adjusting its speed by a mere 6 centimeters per second. This course adjustment is expected to guide Lucy to a point within 425 kilometers of the asteroid. Further trajectory adjustments can be made if necessary at the end of October.
On October 6, the spacecraft moved behind the Sun from Earth’s perspective, leading to a planned period of communication blackout. Nevertheless, Lucy continued to capture images of the asteroid throughout this period. These images will be transmitted back to Earth once communications resume in mid-October after the end of the solar conjunction.
NASA’s Lucy mission, launched in October 2021, is a 12-year endeavor with the goal of exploring seven diverse asteroids, including Dinkinesh, which resides in the main asteroid belt, and six Trojan asteroids near Jupiter. By studying these celestial bodies up close, scientists hope to enhance their understanding of how our solar system’s planets formed 4.5 billion years ago and how they assumed their current configurations.
The mission is aptly named after the fossilized human ancestor affectionately known as “Lucy” by its discoverers. Lucy’s skeleton provided invaluable insights into the evolution of humanity, and NASA’s Lucy mission seeks to provide equally enlightening insights into the early history of our solar system.
As Lucy inches closer to its anticipated encounter with asteroid Dinkinesh, the excitement and anticipation continue to mount within the scientific community and among space enthusiasts worldwide. Stay tuned for more updates as Lucy approaches this historic milestone in its mission.