Bulan ditemukan di sekitar asteroid Polymele oleh tim Lucy NASA

Lucy akan meneliti asteroid Jupiter Trojan, yang diyakini sebagai “fosil pembentukan planet”. Kredit foto: Pusat Penerbangan Luar Angkasa Goddard NASA

Bahkan sebelum dia mulai pada Oktober 2021,[{” attribute=””>NASA’s Lucy mission was already on course to break records by visiting more asteroids than any previous mission. Now, the mission can add one more asteroid to the list, after a surprise result from a long-running observation campaign.

Lucy’s science team discovered on March 27 that the smallest of the mission’s Trojan asteroid targets, Polymele, has a satellite of its own. On that day, Polymele was expected to pass in front of a star. This would allow the team to observe the star blink out as the asteroid briefly blocked, or occulted, it. The Lucy team planned to measure the location, size, and shape of Polymele with unprecedented precision while it was outlined by the star behind it. To do so, they spread 26 teams of professional and amateur astronomers across the path where the occultation would be visible.

Asteroid Polymele

A graphic showing the observed separation of asteroid Polymele from its discovered satellite. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

These occultation campaigns have been enormously successful in the past, providing valuable information to the mission on its asteroid targets, but this day would hold a special bonus.

We were thrilled that 14 teams reported observing the star blink out as it passed behind the asteroid. However, as we analyzed the data, we saw that two of the observations were not like the others,” said Marc Buie, Lucy occultation science lead at the Southwest Research Institute, which is headquartered in San Antonio. “Those two observers detected an object around 200 km (about 124 miles) away from Polymele. It had to be a satellite.”

Trojan Asteroid Polymele and Satellite

A graphic showing the observed separation of asteroid Polymele from its discovered satellite. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Using the occultation data, the scientists determined that this satellite is roughly 3 miles (5 km) in diameter, orbiting Polymele, which is itself around 17 miles (27 km) along its widest axis. The observed distance between the two bodies was approximately 125 miles (200 km).

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Following planetary naming conventions, the satellite will not be issued an official name until the team can determine its orbit. As the satellite is too close to Polymele to be clearly seen by Earth-based or Earth-orbiting telescopes – without the help of a fortuitously positioned star – that determination will have to wait until Lucy approaches the asteroid in 2027, unless the team gets lucky with future occultation attempts before then.

At the time of the observation, Polymele was 480 million miles (770 million km) from Earth. Those distances are roughly equivalent to finding a quarter on a sidewalk in Los Angeles – while trying to spot it from a skyscraper thousands of miles away in Manhattan.

Satellite Orbiting Polymele

Using the occultation data, the team assessed that this satellite is roughly 3 miles (5 km) in diameter, orbiting Polymele, which is itself around 17 miles (27 km) along its widest axis. The observed distance between the two bodies was about 125 miles (200 km). Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Asteroids hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system – perhaps even the origins of life. Solving these mysteries is a high priority for NASA. The Lucy team originally planned to visit one main belt asteroid and six Trojan asteroids, a previously unexplored population of asteroids that lead and follow Jupiter in its orbit around the Sun. In January of 2021, the team used the Hubble Space Telescope to discover that one of the Trojan asteroids, Eurybates, has a small satellite. Now with this new satellite, Lucy is on track to visit nine asteroids on this remarkable 12-year voyage.

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“Lucy’s tagline started out: 12 years, seven asteroids, one spacecraft,” said Lucy program scientist Tom Statler at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We keep having to change the tagline for this mission, but that’s a good problem to have.”

Pada 9 Januari 2020, misi Lucy secara resmi mengumumkan bahwa mereka akan mengunjungi delapan asteroid, bukan tujuh. Ternyata, Eurybates, salah satu asteroid di jalur Lucy, memiliki satelit kecil. Tak lama setelah tim Lucy melihat satelit itu, baik satelit itu maupun Eurybates bergerak di belakang matahari, mencegah tim untuk terus mengamatinya. Namun, asteroid muncul dari belakang Matahari pada Juli 2020, dan sejak itu tim Lucy telah mampu mengamati satelit berkali-kali menggunakan Hubble, memungkinkan tim untuk menentukan orbit satelit dan akhirnya memberi nama resmi satelit kecil itu – Queta .

Penyelidik utama Lucy bekerja di cabang Boulder, Colorado Southwest Research Institute dengan kantor pusat di San Antonio, Texas. Pusat Penerbangan Luar Angkasa Goddard NASA di Greenbelt, Maryland menyediakan semua manajemen misi, rekayasa sistem, dan jaminan keselamatan dan misi. Lockheed Martin Space di Littleton, Colorado membangun pesawat ruang angkasa. Lucy adalah misi ke-13 dalam Program Penemuan NASA. Pusat Penerbangan Luar Angkasa Marshall NASA di Huntsville, Alabama, mengelola program Discovery untuk Direktorat Misi Sains badan tersebut di Washington.

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