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Clue to the History of Solar System? NASA Selects 2 Missions to explore mysterious solar system’s Asteroids

NASA aims to dig deep into the study of the history the universe

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NASA space shuttle, Pixabay

Washington, Jan 5, 2017: Aiming to find important clues to the earliest history of the solar system, NASA has announced two missions — one to explore Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids and the other to study a unique metal asteroid.

The missions, known as Lucy and Psyche, were chosen from five finalists and will proceed to mission formulation, with the goal of launching in 2021 and 2023, respectively, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

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“Lucy will visit a target-rich environment of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids, while Psyche will study a unique metal asteroid that’s never been visited before,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“This is what Discovery Program missions are all about – boldly going to places we’ve never been to enable groundbreaking science,” Zurbuchen added.

Lucy, a robotic spacecraft, is scheduled for October 2021 launch. It is slated to arrive at its first destination, a main belt asteroid, in 2025.

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From 2027 to 2033, Lucy will explore six Jupiter Trojan asteroids.
These asteroids are trapped by Jupiter’s gravity in two swarms that share the planet’s orbit, one leading and one trailing Jupiter in its 12-year circuit around the sun.

The Trojans are thought to be relics of a much earlier era in the history of the solar system, and may have formed far beyond Jupiter’s current orbit.

“This is a unique opportunity,” said Harold Levison, Principal Investigator of the Lucy mission from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

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“Because the Trojans are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets, they hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins,” Levison noted.

The Psyche mission will explore one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt – a giant metal asteroid, known as 16 Psyche, about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth.

This asteroid measures about 130 miles (210 kilometers) in diameter and, unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, is thought to be comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel, similar to Earth’s core.

The mission will help scientists understand how planets and other bodies separated into their layers – including cores, mantles and crusts – early in their histories.

Psyche, also a robotic mission, is targeted to launch in October of 2023, arriving at the asteroid in 2030, following an Earth gravity assist spacecraft maneuvre in 2024 and a Mars flyby in 2025. (IANS)

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Mars Rover’s Mission Now Over, Confirms NASA

Opportunity landed on Mars on January 24, 2004. First among the mission’s scientific goals was to search for and characterise a wide range of rocks and soils for clues to past water activity on Mars

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Mars Rover 2020. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

NASA has announced the end of its Opportunity rover’s mission, 15 years after its arrival on Mars.

The announcement was made on Wednesday at a press conference at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, following NASA’s last attempt to communicate with the rover on Tuesday night which got no response, Xinhua reported.

The rover last communicated with Earth on June 10, 2018, as a planet-wide dust storm blanketed the solar-powered rover’s location on Mars. It has not been heard from for eight months since then.

Opportunity likely experienced a low-power fault, a mission clock fault and an up-loss timer fault, according to the mission team.

Team members have tried to rouse the rover ever since, and radiated more than a thousand commands to restore contact. However, no signal was heard from again.

“Saying goodbye is hard, but it comes the time,” said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity.

“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“When that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration,” he said.

Also Read- Know How NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover Enriched Space Science

The golf-cart-sized rover far exceeded its planned 90-day mission lifetimes. It has worked for nearly 15 years and travelled over 45 km by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars — Perseverance Valley.

Opportunity landed on Mars on January 24, 2004. First among the mission’s scientific goals was to search for and characterise a wide range of rocks and soils for clues to past water activity on Mars. (IANS)