More than two years after launch, Lucy, NASA's latest asteroid-chasing spacecraft, had its first close encounter with a space rock Wednesday.
Lucy was zooming at 10,000 mph when the spacecraft soared by the asteroid named Dinkinesh. At closest approach, Lucy was about 270 miles from the asteroid's surface.
If all went well, the spacecraft's camera L'ORRI was set to take pictures of the asteroid every 15 minutes during the closest approach. The photos will be the clearest of Dinkinesh yet. Since September, the asteroid has appeared as a "single point of light" to the spacecraft, NASA said.
Pictures and other data will take about a week to downlink to Earth, according to NASA.
"The team is looking forward to see how the spacecraft performed during this first in-flight test of a high-speed asteroid encounter," NASA said.
Lucy's operations team said after the flyby Wednesday that the spacecraft "phoned home" and is in "good health."
Dinkinesh is part of the main asteroid belt and means "marvelous" in Amharic. The mission is named after Lucy, the fossil found in Ethiopia.
Lucy launched in October 2021 and will study about 10 asteroids in total throughout its mission to the Trojan asteroids associated with the planet Jupiter. The asteroids are on the same orbital path as the gas giant planet. Two groups of Trojan asteroids zoom ahead and trail behind Jupiter.
Dinkinesh was added to Lucy's journey earlier this year after the spacecraft team identified the asteroid as a new target.
After completing a small maneuver, Lucy got a closer look at the recently named asteroid, officially making it part of Lucy's asteroid tour, according to NASA.
Estimated to be a half-mile wide, Dinkinesh is the smallest asteroid ever visited by a spacecraft.
Lucy's next asteroid flyby happens on April 20, 2025, when the spacecraft approaches the asteroid Donaldjohanson.
Original article source: NASA's Lucy spacecraft makes first asteroid flyby while zooming past Dinkinesh