(ORDO NEWS) — NASA‘s Lucy mission team made an unexpected discovery years before their spacecraft reached its destination, NASA reports.
Scientists have discovered that the smallest asteroid that the probe explores has an even smaller moon in orbit.
The Lucy probe is on its way to Jupiter, where it will observe a group of Trojan asteroids that follow the gas giant.
Trojan asteroids are space rocks that orbit around larger space objects – usually planets. It is known that the two Trojan asteroids Lucy will not reach before 2025, but a team of scientists has already made an impressive discovery. They discovered a satellite orbiting an asteroid called Polymela.
A team of astronomers was able to study the asteroid when it came between Earth and a distant star. At that moment, a clear silhouette of a cosmic body appeared. The object, named 2020 XL5, was confirmed by observations in February this year.
A new discovery of a moon orbiting Polymedes means the Lucy spacecraft will explore even more space rocks than originally thought.
“Lucy’s slogan started like this: 12 years, seven asteroids, one spaceship,” said Lucy program scientist Tom Statler.
“We constantly have to change the slogan for this mission, but this is a serious problem.”
“We were delighted that 14 teams reported seeing a blinking star as it passed behind an asteroid, but after analyzing the data, we saw that two of the observations were not like the others,” said Marc Buie of the Lucy team.
“These two observers found an object about 200 km from Polimele. It was supposed to be her companion.”
The Lucy mission is one of several asteroid exploration missions that uncover new information about ancient space rocks that hold the secrets of the early universe.
The 1.5-ton spacecraft Lucy, which launched from the Cape Canaveral spaceport on October 16 aboard an Atlas V rocket, went to observe eight Trojan asteroids.
Based on the latest results, the probe could explore more space objects and collect more valuable data on Jupiter’s ancient Trojan asteroids than planned.
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