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Why NASA Launched a Robotic Archaeologist Named Lucy


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An artists concept of the Lucy spacecraft encountering a Trojan.

During its 12-year mission, the Lucy spacecraft will be powered by two giant solar arrays that are stowed at launch and gradually expand outward like folding fans. Lucys roller coaster-like trajectory will carry it farther than any solar-powered spacecraft has ever flown.

Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

NASA on Saturday launched a probe toward clusters of asteroids along Jupiter's orbital path. They're known as the Trojan swarms, and they represent the final unexplored regions of asteroids in the solar system. The spacecraft, a deep-space robotic archaeologist named Lucy, will seek to answer pressing questions about the origins of the solar system, how the planets migrated to their current orbits and how life might have emerged on Earth.

"We have never gone this far to study asteroids," said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. "In so doing, we're going to be able to better understand the formation of the solar system, and better understand ourselves and our development."

After a six-year cruise, Lucy will fly close to seven Trojan asteroids through 2033, completing wild circuits of the Sun that conjure the outline of a Formula 1 racetrack in some graphic renderings.

From The New York Times
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