NASA’s Lucy spacecraft zips past asteroid on long journey to Jupiter
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has given ‘a quick hello’ to the first of 10 asteroids it is likely to encounter on its 12-year journey to Jupiter
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NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has passed the first of 10 asteroids* on its long journey to Jupiter.
The spacecraft swooped past the tiny Dinkinesh asteroid, about 480 million kilometres away from Earth in the main asteroid belt* beyond Mars. It was “a quick hello”, according to NASA, with the spacecraft zooming by on Wednesday at 16,000kmh.
Lucy came within 435km of Dinkinesh, testing its instruments in a dry run for the bigger and more alluring* asteroids ahead. Dinkinesh is just 1km wide, quite possibly the smallest of the space rocks on Lucy’s tour.
Lucy’s main targets are the Trojans, swarms* of unexplored asteroids out near Jupiter that are considered to be time capsules from the dawn of the solar system. The spacecraft will swing past eight Trojans believed to be up to 10 to 100 times bigger than Dinkinesh. It’s due to zip past the final two asteroids in 2033.
NASA launched Lucy on its nearly $1 billion mission two years ago. The spacecraft is named after the 3.2 million-year-old fossilised* skeletal remains of a human found in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Lucy will next swing past an asteroid named after one of the fossil’s discoverers: Donald Johanson.
NASA confirmed one of two solar wings on the spacecraft remains loose. Flight controllers gave up trying to latch it down, but it is believed to be stable enough for the entire mission.
This week’s fly-by tops off what NASA is calling Asteroid Autumn. NASA returned its first samples of rubble* from an asteroid in September. Then in October, it launched a spacecraft to a rare, metal-rich asteroid named Psyche.
Unlike those missions, Lucy will not stop at any asteroids or collect any samples.
It will take at least a week for the spacecraft to send back all its pictures and data from the fly-by.
Until now, Dinkinesh’s only been ”an unresolved smudge in the best telescopes”, said lead scientist Hal Levison from the Southwest Research Institute.
- asteroids: rocky bodies orbiting the sun
- asteroid belt: a region of space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter where most of the asteroids in our solar system are found
- alluring: powerfully attractive and interesting
- swarms: crowds
- fossilised: having been preserved into a fossil or rock
- rubble: ruins or waste
1. Who is NASA’s Lucy spacecraft named after?
2. Where is the Dinkinesh asteroid located?
3. Why is NASA celebrating Asteroid Autumn when it’s springtime?
4. What are the Trojans and what does NASA consider them to be?
5. What is broken on the spacecraft and is it an issue?
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1. Create a logo
Imagine that you are an astronaut aboard the Lucy spacecraft. Write a description of your journey past the asteroids. Your description should make your reader feel like they are there with you, so use lots of great descriptive words and details.
Time: allow at least 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science
Why do you think this spacecraft was named after a 3.2 million-year-old fossilised skeleton? Write a paragraph explaining your ideas.
Time: allow at least 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science
1. Capture their attention
A headline on an article – or a title on your text – should capture the attention of the audience, telling them to read this now. So choosing the perfect words for a headline or title is very important.
Create three new headlines for the events that took place in this article. Remember, what you write and how you write it will set the pace for the whole text, so make sure it matches.
Read out your headlines to a partner and discuss what the article will be about based on the headline you created. Discuss the tone and mood you set in just your few, short words. Does it do the article justice? Will it capture the audience’s attention the way you hoped? Would you want to read more?