NASA's Lucy Probe Takes Eerie Picture of Earth From Far Beyond the Moon's Orbit

NASA Earth Shot Lucy 14 photos
Photo: NASA
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket takes off with the Lucy spacecraftIllustration of NASA's Lucy spacecraftThe United Launch Alliance (ULA) Centaur stage for NASA’s Lucy mission is lifted by crane into the Vertical Integration Facility near Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force StationLucy Spacecraft Arrival at Kennedy Space CenterLucy Spacecraft DevelopmentLucy Spacecraft DevelopmentLucy Spacecraft DevelopmentLucy Spacecraft DevelopmentNASA put together a time capsule on its Lucy spacecraftQuotes on the Lucy plaqueNASA put together a time capsule on its Lucy spacecraftLucy missionNASA put together a time capsule on its Lucy spacecraft
NASA's Lucy space probe is a machine destined to study the miscellaneous space rocks of the outer solar system. But that doesn't mean it can't get a little boost from its home planet. Three of them, as a matter of fact. But in the middle of all that chaos, the probe managed to snap an image of the Earth from 380,000 miles (620,000 km) away.
The result is an image of a planet that looks nothing like the lush blue marble we're familiar with. Of course, there's a handful of features present from this distance that we can identify as Earthly. Whisps of thick clouds dot the hemispheres, a large storm forming from the southeast over the awaiting continents. But without that iconic blueish glow, it makes the planet feel hostile, almost alien.

The Lucy spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin and launched from the Space Launch Complex 41 aboard a ULA Atlas 5 booster rocket on October 16th, 2021. It was named in honor of a nearly complete hominoid human skeleton found on the African continent thought to be over three million years old. Its mission is simple in theory but endlessly complex in practice. To investigate the origin of a group of asteroids within the vicinity of Jupiter's orbit. Asteroids that NASA says might not have originated there.

Dubbed the Jupiter Trojans, there's no telling what manner of treasures and discoveries there are to be found on these scraps of space debris from the early days of the solar system. Using a series of gravitational boosts from the Earth itself, Lucy will gain enough velocity to re-orient the spacecraft into an orbital trajectory more suitable for reaching the Jovian Trojan Asteroids in an expedient timeframe.

Illustration of NASA's Lucy spacecraft
Photo: Southwest Research Institute
Roaming in a space between Jupiter's Lagrange points L4 and L5, as many as 9,800 of these objects are thought to occupy the Jovian system's outer margins. Lucy's prime objective is to help
determine whether Jupiter's Trojan Asteroids is run-of-the-mill space junk no different than from what slams into the Earth every hundred million years or so or something different.

Computer simulations conducted by scientists in Nice, France, seemed to indicate the orbits of the outer gas giants became remarkably unstable approximately 600 million years ago. When this happened, a comparably compact solar system expanded to the grand display of eight planets with considerable space between them.

It's thought that the orbital shift from Uranus and Neptune might have helped to form the first of a series of permeable outer shells around the solar system called the Kuiper Belt, while Jupiter and Saturn did the same or the Asteroid Belt.

To find out what's what, Lucy has seven different Trojan Asteroids picked out for its arrival. These are Leucus, Polymele, Eurybates, Orus, the binary Patroclus/Menoetius, and a tiny asteroid named in honor of Donald Johanson, the American paleoanthropologist who discovered the Lucy skeleton in Ethiopia.

Lucy mission
Photo: NASA
Before this rendezvous, the Lucy spacecraft will receive one further gravity assist from the Earth in December 2024. From there, NASA expects the probe to be able to reach 52246 Donaldjohanson in the inner main asteroid belt by April 2025.

After a long period of scientific study, the probe will proceed to the Jovian LeGrange point L4 before another transit back to Earth in December 2030. Its final destination for the moment is slated to be the Trojan Asteroid 617 Patroclus-Menoetius in March 2033.

In the meantime, NASA is left to wait while Lucy sets back off on its journey to Jupiter. With a treasure trove of knowledge on the other side, we can't wait to see what it turns up.
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