Space probe Lucy embarks on a years-long journey to the rocks near Jupiter |  Science

Space probe Lucy embarks on a years-long journey to the rocks near Jupiter | Science

Millions of rocks fly near Jupiter. It orbits the sun and is a relic from the time our solar system formed billions of years ago. For the first time, a space probe goes there, the American capsule Lucy. It will be launched on Saturday. The launch date is set for 11:34 am Dutch time.




Trojan asteroids called rocks. They fly in the same orbit around the Sun as Jupiter, 530 million km from the Sun. This is about five times farther from Earth. The rocks are divided into two groups called swarms. Half flies before Jupiter, and the other half flies after Jupiter. Lucy has to find out what they made, among other things. This can tell us something about the dust cloud from which the Sun, Earth, other planets, and all the moons were formed at once.

To reach her destination, Lucy must embark on a complex journey that will take about 12 years. Earth has to bombard the probe several times with gravity. It will happen first in October of next year and then again in December 2024. In April 2025, Lucy passed an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter. Then the probe flies to the swarm of rocks that fly in front of Jupiter. In the years 2027 and 2028, you will visit the asteroid Eurybates and its moon Queta, and the asteroids Polymele, Leucus and Orus. When this is done, Lucy returns to Earth for a moment. Our planet should fling it away in December 2030 towards the other swarm flying past Jupiter. In March 2033, you should reach the rocks of Patroclus and Minoetius. When Lucy is there, she has a total of over 6 billion kilometers on the clock.

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Lucy owns huge solar panels to generate electricity. It’s the first time a remote probe has used solar power. Their predecessors ran on nuclear power.

Lucy is named after a prehistoric skeleton found in Ethiopia in 1974. It turned out to be a harbinger of humans. As this fossil taught scientists more about evolution, the probe should teach scientists more about the evolution of the solar system, NASA explains the name choice.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Lucy spacecraft is ready for launch on Saturday morning. © AP

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