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NASA’s Lucy mission captures first views of Jupiter Trojan asteroids

Lucy mission captures images of Jupiter Trojan asteroids from 330 million miles away

NASA’s Lucy mission is on a 12-year journey to observe nine Jupiter Trojans and two main belt asteroids, making it the first-ever mission to visit them. Despite being more than 330 million miles (530 million kilometers) away from the spacecraft, Lucy was able to capture views of four Jupiter Trojan asteroids recently. The asteroids are relatively small in size, but Lucy used its highest resolution imager, L’LORRI, to take the images, which will help the team choose exposure times for close-up observations of the targets.

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Four asteroids imaged using Lucy’s highest resolution imager, L’LORRI

During March 25 to 27, 2023, Lucy observed Eurybates, Polymele, Leucus, and Orus using its L’LORRI camera. Although the four images are at the same scale, they have different orientations, reflecting the camera’s different positions when capturing each target. The observation times for each target also varied based on their rotation periods, ranging from 2 to 10 hours.

Data from images to help choose exposure times for close-up observations

The images are part of a series of planned observations designed to measure the way Trojan asteroids reflect light at higher angles than is observable from Earth. Although they appear as single points of light against a backdrop of distant stars, the data collected will assist in determining the exposure times for Lucy’s close-up observations of these targets.

Lucy is set to fly by these asteroids in 2027 and 2028 as it passes through a swarm of small asteroids leading Jupiter in its orbit around the Sun. As the spacecraft traverses the asteroid field, it will undertake a comprehensive study of Jupiter’s Trojans, making unprecedented observations that will deepen our understanding of the solar system.

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