This Sunday there will be a spaceship called Lucy in the sky – only without diamonds.
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will orbit the earth, coming within a few hundred miles of Jupiter on its journey to the distant Trojan asteroids.
The spacecraft will fly by 220 miles above Earth’s surface on Sunday morning. according to a NASA press release.
And some lucky observers will be able to see Lucy from Earth, NASA says.
The asteroid-hopping spacecraft will be visible from Western Australia at around 6:55am EST. But it will disappear from view after a few minutes. At 7:26 a.m. EST, it should be visible across the western United States — assuming skies are clear and sky-gazers have decent binoculars.
To get that close to Earth, the spacecraft must navigate through an area littered with satellites and debris. NASA implements special procedures to prevent Lucy from bumping into anything on her journey.
“The Lucy team has prepared two different maneuvers,” Coralie Adam, team principal of KinetX Aerospace’s Lucy navigation team, said in the press release. “If the team determines that Lucy is in danger of colliding with a satellite or debris, then the spacecraft will – 12 hours before closest approach to Earth – perform one of them and change the time of closest approach by either two or four seconds .
“That’s a small correction, but it’s enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision.”
The 12-year Lucy mission launched in October 2021. The goal of the mission is to study the Trojan asteroid swarms orbiting Jupiter. The asteroids have never been observed directly before; The image above shows an illustration of Lucy approaching one of the asteroids. But if all goes according to plan, Lucy will provide the first high-resolution images of the asteroids.
The spacecraft will fly by Earth three times during its mission. Getting into Earth orbit helps Lucy get a boost she needs to continue on her way.
“The last time we saw the spacecraft, it was locked in the payload fairing in Florida,” said Hal Levison, lead investigator for Lucy at the Southwest Research Institute’s office in Boulder, Colorado, referring to a protective nose cone used during of the start was used. “It’s exciting to be able to stand here in Colorado and see the spacecraft again.
“And this time Lucy will be in heaven.”