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Lucy gets first images of its first target asteroid, Dinkinesh

The asteroid Dinkinesh as seen by Lucy

The asteroid probe Lucy has obtained its first images of Dinkinesh, the first of the ten asteroids the spacecraft is hoping to visit during its twelve year voyage to the Trojan asteroids.

The image to the left shows the motion of that asteroid over a two day period when Lucy was getting the pictures.

Lucy took these images while it was 14 million miles (23 million km) away from the asteroid, which is only about a half-mile wide (1 km). Over the next two months, Lucy will continue toward Dinkinesh until its closest approach of 265 miles (425 km) on Nov. 1, 2023. The Lucy team will use this encounter as an opportunity to test out spacecraft systems and procedures, focusing on the spacecraft’s terminal tracking system, designed to keep the asteroid within the instruments’ fields of view as the spacecraft flies by at 10,000 mph (4.5 km/s). Lucy will continue to image the asteroid over the next months as part of its optical navigation program, which uses the asteroid’s apparent position against the star background to determine the relative position of Lucy and Dinkinesh to ensure an accurate flyby. Dinkinesh will remain an unresolved point of light during the long approach and won’t start to show surface detail until the day of the encounter.

Lucy’s primary targets are asteroids in the two Trojan groups that orbit the Sun in the two Lagrange points in same orbit as Jupiter, fore and aft of the gas giant by 60 degrees. For a map of Lucy’s full mission profile, go here.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.


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  • markedup2

    I understand how it can detect movement, although without the helpful circles it would have taken me a long time to notice (but I also liked the glowing hockey puck, back before HDTV).

    How does anyone know it’s looking at the right asteroid? It’s the only moving thing I see in that picture, but surely there are others flying around out there, too. Just ‘right place, right time’ based on what we know from longer-term ground observations?

  • markedup2: They know this moving dot is Dinkinesh for two reasons:

    1. The moving dot is where in the sky the asteroid is supposed to be, based on its well documented orbit.
    2. Space is big. Even though this asteroid is in the asteroid belt, objects are not that close together. It is unlikely this small field of view would spot two objects, with both traveling in the exactly the same general direction as predicted by Dinkinesh’s orbit.

  • Andi

    minor edit in last sentence: “Lagrange points”

  • Andi: What would I do without your second pair of eyes? Thank you. Now fixed.

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