Lucy’s cosmic journey just got spiced up, y’all! The intrepid spacecraft, hot on its way to join Jupiter’s cosmic rock party, made a pit stop to check out Dinikinesh, a teeny asteroid that recently made it onto the mission’s guest list. Talk about a cosmic plus-one!
NASA’s ace asteroid hunter snapped not one but two snazzy shots of this celestial speedster on September 2 and 5. Picture this: Dinikinesh doing its celestial cha-cha against a starry backdrop that’s both bustling and chillingly still. NASA dropped these images on a Monday, giving us all a cosmic thrill as the mission mavericks double-checked the spacecraft’s nuts and bolts before its close encounter with the asteroid, scheduled for November 1.
Lucy played paparazzi to Dinikinesh, a pint-sized space rock measuring just half a mile wide (or a cool kilometer for our metric pals). When they first locked eyes, Lucy was 14 million miles (or a whopping 23 million kilometers) away. But this cosmic dance ain’t over yet! The spacecraft’s got plans to cozy up even more, closing the gap to a mere 265 miles (or 425 km) during their rendezvous.
Over the next month or so, Lucy’s gonna get real buddy-buddy with Dinikinesh. They’ll snap more selfies than a teenager on a Saturday night! It’s all part of Lucy’s fancy navigation routine, where the asteroid’s twirl in the starry spotlight helps the spacecraft figure out where it’s at, ensuring a precision flyby that’ll make our heads spin.
Now, get this: Dinikinesh, or as they say in Amharic, ድንቅነሽ (which, by the way, is the Ethiopian name for that famous ancestor fossil we call Lucy), was dug up back in ’99. But it was only recently chosen to join the cosmic party. It’s like being on the reserve list and suddenly getting an invite to the coolest bash in the galaxy!
Why the last-minute invite, you ask? Well, it’s all about testing Lucy’s top-notch tracking system. This gadget helps the spacecraft snap pics with surgical precision while zooming past asteroids at warp speed. Lucy, which launched in October 2021, is geared up to make asteroid waves in 2027 and 2028. This cosmic road trip’s itinerary includes swinging by Eurybates, giving a nod to its buddy Queta, then a visit to Polymele and its cosmic companion, Leucus. Next up, a meet-and-greet with Orus, and the grand finale, a double date with Patroclus and Menoetius. Talk about a whirlwind tour!
All in all, Lucy’s set to rack up a staggering 4 billion miles (that’s 6.4 billion kilometers for our metric mates) on this wild 12-year mission, making pit stops at 10 different asteroids. Now, that’s a star-studded itinerary that’ll keep us all on the edge of our cosmic seats!