NASA’s Lucy Mission Explained with an Etch-A-Sketch

Asteroids get kind of a bad rep. We really
only talk about them in the context of extinction, or Bruce Willis movies, or sometimes both.
But since they were likely born out of the same material as the outer planets, asteroids
may hold the key to understanding the origins of our Solar System. Enter NASA’s Lucy Mission,
the first ever mission to a set of asteroids called the Trojans. The Trojans are special
because unlike the Main Belt asteroids, these two groups sorta flank Jupiter on either side,
orbiting the Sun along with it. Just a side note. Lucy was named after a famous Astraulopithecus
fossil, which is hailed as a tremendously important discovery for understanding human
origins. The Lucy fossil was in turn named after Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, which
is… I guess… an important discovery for understanding the Beatles? But here’s the craziest part: the Lucy Mission is visiting seven asteroids in one go. There’s Donaldjohanson, small
but feisty. He’s actually a Main Belt asteroid, not a Trojan, so he’s more of a test run
for Lucy. Next, Eurybates, who has a super edgy collisional backstory he doesn’t like
talking about, but that doesn’t mean we won’t ask. Then Polymele, the smallest Trojan
— but still bigger than Donaldjohanson — followed by Leucus, who sure likes to take his time
considering his day is 466 hours long. Next is Orus, who’s probably shy from all the
attention — because his face is super red! And finally, we have this inseparable pair
of best friends, sort of the Korg and Meik of the asteroid world, everyone’s favorite
binary pair of asteroids, Patroclus and Menoetius! Using her instruments onboard, Lucy will analyze
the asteroids’ surface geology, color, composition, masses and densities, and even check whether
or not the asteroids have rings or satellites. Lucy is set to launch in October of 2021,
and with that, she’ll prove that studying asteroids can have a pretty Deep Impact on
our understanding of the universe. Man, they gotta make another asteroid movie soon, cuz these references are getting dated!

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