NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has San Antonio ties and rock ’n’ roll friends

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My 82-year-old parent wasn’t thrilled to sojourn Meteor Crater extracurricular Winslow, Ariz., past summer. She wondered wherefore we went retired of our mode to spot the spectacle she dubbed “a large spread successful the ground.”

Luckily, her skepticism didn’t dampen the remainder of my family’s curiosity.

You see, 50,000 years ago, a 150-foot-wide iron-nickel meteorite weighing 300,000 tons slammed into the godforsaken astatine 26,000 miles per hr with the unit of much than two-and-a-half tons of dynamite. The detonation created a crater 750 feet heavy and astir a mile wide.

So, technically, yes, Mom was close — it is simply a large spread successful the ground. But it’s overmuch much than that.

Scientists are inactive learning from Meteor Crater. NASA astronauts trained determination successful the 1960s. And, of course, the oddity remains a summertime roadworthy travel rite of transition with its useful determination disconnected Interstate 40 and the erstwhile Route 66.

Standing connected the borderline of the abyss makes you consciousness small, and connected that agleam June day, blistery gusts of upwind battered america connected the reflection deck. The godforsaken aerial combined with the Arizona prima made america thirsty arsenic we tried to fathom the forces that created the crater.

But this file isn’t truly astir Meteor Crater. It’s astir NASA’s Lucy mission, rock-and-roll and the set Queen’s necktie to the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio’s nonprofit mega-lab.

Let’s intermission for a speedy refresher: Asteroids are rocky objects that orbit the sun; comets are balls of crystal and particulate that besides orbit the sun; meteoroids are tiny pieces of asteroids oregon comets; meteors (aka “shooting stars”) are meteoroids that pain up arsenic they participate Earth’s atmosphere; meteorites are meteors that don’t pain up wholly and deed earth.

Then determination are asteroids and comets that travel from different galaxies, but that’s a full different issue.

So ample meteor strikes connected Earth are evidently a scary possibility. Thankfully, scientists astir the satellite are hard astatine enactment studying the assorted things that could slam into our planet.

The United Nations-sanctioned Asteroid Day is an planetary forum raising consciousness astir asteroids’ relation successful the star system’s enactment and the value of defending the satellite against aboriginal impacts. Its tag line: “Find hazardous asteroids earlier hazardous asteroids find us. The dinosaurs ne'er saw that asteroid coming. What’s our excuse?”

Held annually connected June 30, Asteroid Day brings unneurotic experts to sermon their latest research. June 30 is besides the day of the Siberia Tunguska event, the largest meteor interaction connected Earth successful modern history, which leveled 800 quadrate miles of distant wood oregon astir 80 cardinal trees.

Eighty cardinal trees!

Former Queen guitarist turned astrophysicist, Brian May, Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart and respective others started Asteroid Day successful 2015.

“Asteroid Day was created to promote the nationalist and governments to larn much astir asteroids, the root of our Solar System, and to enactment the resources indispensable to find and deflect asteroids,” May said successful a statement. “We person each seen however unprepared the quality contention was, faced with a pandemic. The menace of an asteroid onslaught is conscionable arsenic real. The consequences could beryllium conscionable arsenic catastrophic.”

Here’s wherever San Antonio comes in.

Southwest Research Institute is starring NASA’s Lucy ngo to survey the Trojan Asteroids. Hal Levison is the mission’s superior investigator, and Cathy Olkin is the lawman main investigator. Both enactment retired of SwRI’s Boulder, Colo., office. And engineers and scientists successful SwRI’s San Antonio installation built respective components for the technological instruments aboard Lucy.

It’s the archetypal ngo to survey the asteroid loop that’s successful the aforesaid orbit astir the prima arsenic Jupiter. The spacecraft, which is arsenic gangly arsenic a 5-story gathering erstwhile its star panels are extended, is acceptable to blast disconnected connected its 4-billion-mile travel aboard an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral successful October.

Cathy Olkin talked astir Lucy during past month’s Asteroid Day. The lawsuit was virtual owed to the pandemic.

She said Brian May helped the Lucy squad with a special plaque that’ll beryllium attached to the spacecraft.

“There's been the thought of putting plaques connected spacecraft successful lawsuit idiosyncratic discovers it successful the future, and the Lucy ngo is going to orbit for a precise agelong time, you cognize — much than 1,000 years wrong our star system,” she said. “And truthful the thought for the plaque is that it's a connection to our descendants.”

Lucy’s sanction honors the “fossilized quality ancestor discovered the twelvemonth aft Pioneer 11 began its travel retired of the Solar System,” arsenic good arsenic the Beatles’ opus “Lucy successful the Sky with Diamonds.”

And, yes, words from the Beatles are besides connected the plaque.

After Lucy reaches space, it’ll orbit world doubly earlier heading toward the Trojan asteroids. In 2025, she’ll walk an asteroid named “Donaldjohanson” that’s betwixt Mars and Jupiter.

“Donald Johanson is the paleo-anthropologist who discovered the Lucy fossil successful 1974,” Olkin said. “We named the asteroid that we're going to alert by aft him.”

She said that Lucy the fossil transformed our knowing of quality improvement conscionable arsenic Lucy the spacecraft volition alteration our knowing of the star system’s evolution.

Lucy won’t scope the archetypal Trojan asteroid until 2027. When it does, it’ll beryllium the archetypal clip for humanity.

“Every clip we spot objects for the archetypal time, we larn truthful overmuch much — we larn adjacent astir questions we didn't cognize to inquire previously,” she said. “I'm truly looking guardant to visiting antithetic types of asteroids and trying to recognize wherefore they look antithetic and what made them that way.”

Lucy is slated to alert by 5 Trojan asteroids successful 2027 and 2028. The trade volition rendezvous with different 2 Trojan asteroids successful 2033, and past volition support an orbit for thousands of years.

“This is simply a large clip to beryllium exploring our star system,” Olkin said. “There's truthful galore absorbing NASA missions.”

Lucy is different illustration of however San Antonio is contributing to abstraction exploration. The things Lucy learns could assistance prevention america each someday.

Oh, and adjacent though she won’t admit, I deliberation my Mom secretly enjoyed the sojourn to Meteor Crater.

Brandon Lingle writes for the Express-News done Report for America, a nationalist work programme that places journalists successful section newsrooms.

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