Exactly When, Where And How To See ‘Lucy’ In The Sky As NASA Spacecraft Swings By Earth

NASA’s long-term mission “Lucy” to visit eight mysterious asteroids will conduct a flyby of its home planet this weekend.

The space agency reports that exactly one year after its launch on Sunday, October 16, 2022, the spacecraft will crash close to Earth to use that planet’s gravity to set a course towards the asteroid Jupiter Trojan .

Trojan asteroids are ancient remnants of the early solar system that are grouped into two “swarms” that guide and follow Jupiter on its path around the sun.

The $450 million Discovery-class spacecraft will fly over Earth’s atmosphere just 220 miles/350 kilometers above the surface at 7:04 a.m. EDT this Sunday. However, this closest approach is at night over the Pacific Ocean.

Viewers in the western half of North America using binoculars or a wide-field telescope can watch Lucy emerge from Earth’s shadow at 4:26 am PDT, 5:26 am MDT, and 1:26 am HST. Full details and diagrams are provided by NASA. From North America, Lucy will be about 6th to 7th magnitude, so not visible to the naked eye.

It will also be visible from Australia.

The slingshot will provide the spacecraft with valuable orbital power to travel to the distant asteroids during the remainder of its 12-year mission. However, Lucy will return in two years for a second Earth flyby before crossing the main asteroid belt and visiting asteroid Donaldjohanson and four Trojan asteroids: Eurybates and its satellite Queta, Polymele and its yet unnamed satellite Leucus, then Orus.

A third gravity Earth flyby in 2030 will take Lucy to Patroclus-Menoetius, a binary asteroid pair behind the Trojan asteroids.

There is concern that Lucy could collide with one of the many thousands of satellites in Earth orbit this weekend. “The Lucy team has two different maneuvers prepared,” said Coralie Adam, associate director of the Lucy navigation team at KinetX Aerospace in Simi Valley, California. “If the team determines that Lucy is in danger of colliding with a satellite or a piece of debris, the spacecraft will – 12 hours before closest approach to Earth – execute one of them, shifting the time of closest approach by either two or four seconds.” . This is a small correction, but it is enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision.”

As it will fly towards Earth from the direction of the Sun, Lucy will be able to take pictures of the almost full Earth and the Moon.

“I’m particularly excited about the final images Lucy will be taking of the moon,” said John Spencer, associate project scientist at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). “Counting craters to understand the collision history of the Trojan asteroids is key to the science that Lucy will conduct, and this will be the first opportunity to calibrate Lucy’s ability to detect craters by comparing them with previous observations of the moon.” compared by other space missions.”

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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