- NASA's Lucy mission, launched in October 2021, is our first visit to a group of asteroids called Trojans that share Jupiter's orbit around the Sun.
- Lucy will visit seven Trojan asteroids between 2027 and 2033, plus a bonus main-belt asteroid in 2025.
- Asteroids are leftover planet-building materials from the formation of our solar system. By studying a variety of these small worlds, we learn more about our origin story.
What will Lucy do?
Asteroids, comets, and other small worlds are leftover planet-building materials from the formation of our solar system. Around 4 billion years ago, a chaotic chain of planet migrations threw some into Earth, possibly bringing here water and organic materials—the building blocks of life as we know it.
We don't know exactly what happened, and on Earth, processes like weather and geologic activity have erased much of our past. Asteroids, however, have floated through space mostly untouched, serving as fossils ready to unlock the secrets of our origin story.
NASA's Lucy mission is our first visit to a particular group of asteroids called Trojans that share Jupiter's orbit around the Sun. The Trojans may have formed farther away before getting caught by Jupiter's gravity, and likely have different blends of the solar system's starting materials than other asteroids we've previously visited.
Lucy, named after the fossilized skeleton that helped scientists learn where humans fit into the evolutionary chain of life, launched in 2021 and will visit seven Trojan asteroids between 2027 and 2033. Just like its ancestral namesake, Lucy aims to give us a more complete picture of our origin story.
How Lucy Works
Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids are divided into two groups that flank the giant planet as it orbits the Sun. To visit both groups, Lucy must fly to an elongated orbit around the Sun that roughly carries it between Earth and Jupiter.
After launching in 2021, Lucy will fly past Earth twice to bend its trajectory.
On October 16, 2022, Lucy performed its first Earth flyby. The next time Lucy does this for a gravity assist will be December 13, 2024.
On the way out to the Trojan asteroids, the spacecraft will fly past a bonus science target in April 2025: main belt asteroid DonaldJohnson, named after one of the co-discoverers of the Lucy fossil.
Lucy’s first trip out to Jupiter will carry it through the leading swarm of Trojan asteroids collectively known as the Greek camp. The spacecraft will fly past Eurybates and its moon Queta in August 2027, Polymele in September 2027, Leucus in April 2028, and Orus in November 2028.
Then, Lucy will fall back towards Earth before whipping back out to Jupiter. On its second visit, Lucy will fly through the trailing swarm of Trojan asteroids. Confusingly, the trailing group is called the Trojan camp! On this trip, Lucy will visit Patroclus and companion asteroid Menoetius in March 2033.
This will complete Lucy’s primary mission. However, the spacecraft will remain in a stable orbit between Earth and Jupiter, providing opportunities for an extended mission and more asteroid visits.