NASA’s Lucy spacecraft got its first sight of the Earth-Moon System a a year after its launch from its home planet to explore a distant swarm of asteroids. The spacecraft captured beautiful, and somewhat intimidating, images of Earth and its natural satellite as it zoomed by for a gravitational to help.
The Spaceship Lucy is currently on a six-year trip to Jupiter to study the Trojan asteroids, two groups of rocky bodies that lead and follow Jupiter in orbit around the Sun.
As part of his convoluted journeyLucy flew over the Earth on October 15 for the first of three gravity assist maneuvers to place the spacecraft on a new trajectory beyond the orbit of Mars. During her flyby, Lucy took some pictures of the Earth and the Moon to calibrate the spacecraft’s instruments. Nasa published pictures this week—and they’re really awesome, if not a bit creepy-inducing. Plus, they’re a preview of the spacecraft’s capabilities and the kinds of views one can expect from Trojan asteroids.
The first image was taken on October 13, when Lucy was 1.4 million kilometers from Earth. The spacecraft was still heading towards our planet for the close flyby and was able to capture the Earth-Moon system in the same frame.
The Moon can be seen very faintly along the left side of the image, separated from its host planet by about 238,900 miles (384,400 kilometers). This view of the distant pair challenges our perception of the Moon we see in our night sky, which appears relatively close to us. Instead, the image reveals just how far away the Moon really is from Earth, and the eerie darkness of space between them.
As Lucy got closer to Earth, she captured this closer look at the planet on October 15 from a distance of 385000 miles (620,000 kilometers). This view of Earth shows Hadar, Ethiopia—the place of origin of the 3.2 million year old hominid fossil that gave the spacecraft its name.
The Lucy fossils have provided valuable information about human evolution, in the same way that the Trojan asteroids could help scientists piece together the story of the origin of the early solar system and its evolution over time.
About eight hours after passing Earth, Lucy got cozy with the Moon. The spacecraft captured this close-up image of the lunar surface on October 16 from a distance of about 140,000 miles (230,000 km) from the surface.
The image, taken with Lucy The LORRI (Lucy LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) grayscale high resolution camera, was assembled by combining ten two millisecond exposures of the same image to increase its quality, with each pixelel representing about 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers).
This mosaic of the Moon was created from five separate one-millisecond exposures, with each pixel representing approximately 1.2 kilometers. The highest area of the image was taken earlier than the lower parthence the incongruous vision of this lunar zone. The image was taken about eight hours after Lucy’s flyby of Earth, when the spacecraft was about 140,000 miles (230,000 km) from the Moon.
In another close-up image of the Moon, Lucy observed the side of the lunar surface most familiar to us on Earth. Flying between Earth and the Moon, the captured spacecraft the Mare Imbrium lava-filled impact basin. The lower right area of the image shows the Apennines mMountain chain—the landing site of the Apollo 15 mission in 1971.
After Lucy bid farewell to Earth, her new trajectory placed her in a two-year orbit around the Sun. In two years, Lucy will return to Earth for further gravitational assistance. From there, the spacecraft will have about three more years before reaching its first target, the asteroid Donaldjohanson. Later in August 2027, Lucy will begin her tour of Troy visiting Eurybates and her binary partner Queta, followed by Polymele and her binary partner, Leucus, Orus, and the binary pair Patroclus and Menoetius.
After: Astronomers hunt shadows of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids
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