On January 4th, 2017, the space agency announced it is going to fund two new missions that will focus on analyzing some of the most mysterious asteroids floating in space. Lucy, which takes after the oldest human fossil ever discovered, is set to launch in October 2021. The space mission will focus on investigating the Trojan asteroids floating in Jupiter’s orbit as well as those located in the main asteroid belt, located between Jupiter and Mars. Scientists at NASA predict Lucy will reach the main asteroid belt in 2025 and then arrive at six other Trojan asteroids circling Jupiter sometime between 2027 and 2033.
In the meantime, the Psyche space mission scheduled for October 2023 is expected to arrive at one of the oddest asteroids in space in 2030, according to NASA officials. This mission takes after 16 Psyche, a huge, metallic asteroid residing in the asteroid belt.
Scientists at NASA took a special interest in the Lucy space mission since they think exploring the Trojan asteroids could provide them with some valuable pieces of information on how planets were formed. Researchers see the Trojan asteroids as planetary building block which formed early on, far from the sun, and were later pulled into Jupiter’s orbit by the planet’s powerful gravitational force.
“Trojans hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system”, says Harold Levison, principal investigator of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
He believes that much like the discovery of the oldest human remains, Lucy, only this time a space mission, will revolutionize the understanding of human kind’s origins.
While Lucy will focus on exploring the solar system’s primordial building blocks, the Psyche space mission will analyze a metallic asteroid, thought to have been the core of an ancient planet as large as Mars. Scientists believe that the planet’s rocky outer layers were blasted by violent collisions billions of years ago and the metallic core is all that is left today. According to the space agency, 16 Psyche is the only known asteroid of its kind floating in space and humanity’s only way of visiting a core.
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