NASA’s ‘Lucy’ spacecraft returns images of a ‘full Earth’

In the wake of NASA’s Lucy spacecraft super-shutdown flyby of earth last weekend a batch of incredible images has been returned from the vehicle linked to the asteroid.

The $450 million “Discovery”-class spacecraft flew past Earth’s atmosphere just 220 miles / 350 kilometers above the surface at 7:04 a.m. EDT on Sunday, October 16, 2022.

Lucy is bound for a swarm of Trojan asteroids. Often referred to as “Jupiter’s children”, Trojan asteroids orbit the Sun in two swarms, ahead of Jupiter and one in its wake. They are considered primitive remnants – fossils – of the formation and evolution of planets and the solar system.

On the first of three flybys of Earth to gain orbital energy for her 12-year long missions last weekend, Lucy approached Earth from the direction of the Sun. It thus allowed the spacecraft to take images of a “full” Earth, as well as of the Moon.

The images will be used to calibrate the spacecraft’s cameras and instruments, though it’s the images from the Mon that are of most interest to mission scientists.

Lucy will return for a second flyby of Earth in two years before she can cross the main asteroid belt and visit the asteroid Donaldjohanson and four Trojan asteroids: Eurybates and its satellite Queta, Polymele and its still unnamed satellite Leucus, then Orus . A third gravitational flyby of Earth in 2030 will fly Lucy to Patroclus-Menoetius, a pair of binary asteroids behind the Trojan asteroids.

The asteroid that the NASA spacecraft will visit in the asteroid belt has been named (52246) Donaldjohanson for Donald Johanson, who in 1974 in Ethiopia discovered a fossilized human ancestor 3.2 million years old. He called her Lucy after playing a Beatles tape that night at camp, including the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.

The NASA spacecraft is named after this fossil and this region can be seen in its new images. Look to the top left of the image at the top of this article and you will see Hadar in Ethiopia where Lucy was found. The image was taken with Lucy’s T2CAM (Terminal Tracking Camera) system.

Lucy will orbit the Sun six times during her mission, but eventually she will travel between the Trojan asteroids and Earth’s orbit for millions of years. Therefore, Lucy carries a time capsule containing messages for our descendants. It is hoped that the humans of the future will recover Lucy and discover that she is an artifact from the time when humanity took its first steps to explore the solar system.

Its next Earth flyby will be in late 2024.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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