NASA’s Lucy mission set to launch on Saturday, will study Trojan asteroids

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On Saturday, NASA is set to make history once again with its Lucy mission.

This will be the first mission to study the Trojan asteroids.

Over the next 12 years, Lucy will explore eight asteroids.

Those include seven Trojan asteroids and one main belt asteroid between Mars and Jupiter.

The purpose of this mission is to learn more about the early days of our solar system.  

First, we will start with the basics. What are the Trojan asteroids? And what are they named after?

The Trojan asteroids are a group of asteroids around Jupiter and are actually named after the Trojan War.

Some asteroids are located in front of Jupiter and are named after the Greek warriors in the Trojan War.

The ones following Jupiter are named after the Trojans.

Their names may be familiar, but their history is not.

Dr. Thomas Wagner is the Lead Program Scientist for the Discovery Program. He is excited to learn more about the Trojan asteroids and the formation of our solar system.

“We don’t really know a lot about them and that’s why they’re fascinating to study. Especially because we think they may be fossils of the very earliest part of the formation of our solar system,” says Wagner.

Asteroids are the rocky material left over from when the planets first formed. Learning about the Trojan asteroids can give us insight into the beginning of our solar system. Wagner relates it to another piece in the puzzle of how our solar system came together.

In the next twelve years, Lucy will not only investigate the Trojan asteroids but also have a couple of flybys of our home planet.

“The mission is going to go do flybys of the earth a couple of times, which actually we use the gravitational pull of the earth to change the direction and change the speed. We’re going to fly by a few of these Trojan asteroids, then we’re going to come all the way back from Jupiter, around the earth again, then go to the Greek ones that are on the other side of it.”

Although you may just now be hearing about Lucy, this mission has been a long time in the making. Wagner says there are hundreds of people from different backgrounds involved in the process.

Planning a mission usually starts over a decade from launch, sometimes two decades!

“And this was a priority from decades ago that these are really strange things that might really inform us about how our solar system formed and we should go there.”

Wagner notes it takes about five years to build and launch.

The buildup is exciting, but at the basis of it all is the desire of knowledge.

“This is pure and simple exploration and discovery and going to a place we’ve never been before to go and look at something we’ve never seen before. We don’t really know what’s out there.”

The Lucy mission is studying fossils in space, while honoring fossils here at home.

“The mission itself, Lucy, is named after the pre-human fossil of Lucy which was found in Africa. And like that Lucy fossil, we’re hoping that these asteroids are going to be fossils that tell us a lot about the formation of our solar system,” states Wagner.

If you’re thinking of a certain Beatles song, there is a connection. Wagner says the Lucy fossil was actually named after the Beatles song!

The launch is schedule for 5:34 a.m. ET on Saturday.

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