Explained: How Jupiter Trojan asteroids will help NASA learn about evolution of solar system

What is the News?

NASA is set to launch the ‘Lucy’ Mission in the next week.

What is Mission Lucy?

Mission Lucy is NASA’s first mission to explore the Jupiter Trojan asteroids.

Named After: The mission is named after ‘Lucy’, a 3.2 million-year-old ancestor who belonged to a species of hominins (which include humans and their ancestors).

What is the aim of the mission?

As per some planet formation and evolution models, the Trojan asteroids are believed to be formed from the same material that led to the formation of planets nearly 4 billion years ago when the solar system was formed.

Therefore, the mission is designed to understand the composition of the diverse asteroids that are a part of the Trojan asteroid swarms, to determine the mass and densities of the materials and to look for and study the satellites and rings that may orbit the Trojan asteroids.

What is the duration of the mission?

It is a solar-powered mission. It is estimated to be over 12 years long, during the course of which the spacecraft will visit eight asteroids covering a distance of about 6.3 billion km to deepen the understanding of the “young solar system”.

What are the types of asteroids, and What are Trojan Asteroids?

Asteroids are divided into three categories: 

The first group are those that are found in the main asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. This region is estimated to contain somewhere between 1.1-1.9 million asteroids.

The second group is that of trojans (the name comes from Greek mythology), which are asteroids that share an orbit with a larger planet. NASA reports the presence of Jupiter, Neptune and Mars trojans. In 2011, they reported an Earth trojan as well.

The Jupiter asteroids can be found in what are referred to as “swarms” that lead and follow the planet Jupiter along its orbit around the Sun. ‘Lucy’ will reach the first swarm of these asteroids that precede Jupiter by August 2027.

The third classification of asteroids is under Near-Earth Asteroids (NEA), which has orbits that pass close to the Earth. Those that cross the Earth’s orbit are called Earth-crossers. More than 10,000 such asteroids are known, of which over 1,400 are classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).

Source: This post is based on the article Explained: How Jupiter Trojan asteroids will help NASA learn about the evolution of the solar systempublished in Indian Express on 10th October 2021.

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