NASA Spacecraft Flies Past Earth Today as it Heads to Jupiter Trojan Asteroid

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: Ethan Miller / Staff

Lucy was in the sky today. However, she was without her diamonds. According to NASA, the spacecraft, named Lucy, flew past our skies on Sunday morning just before 8 a.m. ET as it headed for the far-off Jupiter Trojan asteroids.

The spacecraft passed over Earth, coming within just a few hundred miles of us on its journey. According to a release from the space agency. It also passed 220 miles over our surface.

While many of us were in bed sleeping, some lucky observers could spot Lucy from Earth, according to reports from NASA.

Across the world in Western Australia, the asteroid-finding spacecraft was visible from down under at around 6:55 a.m. ET. However, it passed out of view in just a few minutes. Later, at 7:26 a.m. ET, it could be seen in the western United States. However, this assumed the skies were clear, and viewers had a decent pair of binoculars.

However, since it came so close to Earth, it required the spacecraft to work its way around an area dense with satellites and debris. As a result, NASA put into place special mechanisms to prevent Lucy from hitting anything during its journey.

“The Lucy team has prepared two different maneuvers,” said Coralie Adam, the team chief for the Lucy deputy navigation team from KinetX Aerospace, in the release.

“If the team detects that Lucy is at risk of colliding with a satellite or piece of debris, then – 12 hours before the closest approach to Earth – the spacecraft will execute one of these, altering the time of closest approach by either two or four seconds. This is a small correction, but it is enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision.”

NASA’s Lucy aims to capture first high-res images of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

NASA launched the now 12-year-old Lucy mission this time last year. The mission aims to examine the Trojan asteroid clusters that orbit Jupiter.

In addition, NASA officials have never been able to observe the asteroids directly until now. However, if all goes well, Lucy will give us the first high-resolution photos of the asteroids.

During its mission, the Beatles-themed spacecraft will fly by Earth three times. Finding its way into Earth’s orbit gives Lucy the boost it needs to continue on with its journey.

“The last time we saw the spacecraft, it was being enclosed in the payload fairing in Florida,” said Hal Levison, principal investigator for Lucy at the Southwest Research Institute’s Boulder, Colorado office, referring to a protective nose cone the pout on Lucy used during launches.

“It is exciting that we will be able to stand here in Colorado and see the spacecraft again. And this time Lucy will be in the sky.”