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NASA's Lucy Catches Glimpse of Its First Target Asteroid

Dinkinesh is the first asteroid that the mission will encounter on its way to the Jovian system.

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The main belt asteroid Dinkinesh appears as a small dot against a background of stars.
Gif: NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL

The Lucy spacecraft is getting closer to its first asteroid encounter, a small, stony celestial body that was recently added to the mission’s itinerary. Still on its way to rendezvous with Jupiter’s swarm of asteroids, Lucy caught a glimpse of Dinikinesh in the main asteroid belt.

NASA’s asteroid probe captured two images of the target asteroid on September 2 and 5, revealing Dinikinesh in motion against a busy yet static starry backdrop. The space agency released the images on Monday as the team behind the mission tests the spacecraft’s systems and procedures until its closest approach to the asteroid on November 1.


Lucy imaged Dinikinesh, which is only about a half-mile wide (1 kilometer), while it was 14 million miles (23 million kilometers) away from the asteroid. The spacecraft will continue to move closer to the asteroid until its close flyby, where it will be at a distance of 265 miles (425 km). Lucy will continue to get familiar with its first asteroid target over the next month or so, capturing several images of Dinikinesh as part of its optical navigation program that uses the asteroid’s apparent position against the star background to determine the relative position of the spacecraft and its target to ensure an accurate flyby, according to NASA.

Dinkinesh, or ድንቅነሽ in Amharic, the Ethiopian name for the human-ancestor fossil that’s also known as Lucy, was discovered in 1999 but was left unnamed until it was selected as a target for the mission in January.


The asteroid was added to Lucy’s list of targets as a way to test the spacecraft’s terminal tracking system, which is used for precise imaging during its high speed encounters with the asteroids.

Lucy launched in October 2021 and is expected to reach its asteroid targets in 2027 and 2028. The spacecraft will begin its Trojan tour by visiting Eurybates and its binary partner Queta, followed by Polymele and its binary partner, Leucus, Orus, and the binary pair Patroclus and Menoetius. Lucy is expected to travel over 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) during its 12-year mission, during which the probe will visit 10 asteroids.

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