NASA’s asteroid investigator Lucy tests out its four cameras

NASA’s Lucy mission was launched last year on its journey to the Trojan asteroids, which are in Jupiter’s orbit. Despite a problem with one of its solar panels, the spacecraft is traveling as hoped and is on its way to study the ancient asteroids with the goal of learning more about how the solar system formed. Now NASA has shared some of the first images captured by Lucy’s instruments as part of their calibration process.

Lucy has a total of four cameras, including the two dual Terminal Tracking Cameras (T2CAM), which have a wide field of view and are used to lock in asteroids and point the other instruments in the right direction as Lucy flies close by. The other cameras are the Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) that will capture panorama-style images, and the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) that will capture high-resolution close-up images of the asteroids. In addition to the cameras, Lucy also has a spectrometer and an instrument to map the temperature.

With a 10-second exposure, the Rosette Nebula is just visible in the lower-right center of the T2CAM frame. NASA/Goddard/SwRI

These calibration images were taken in February of this year as part of a procedure that aimed the spacecraft’s instruments at 11 different targets to verify that the spacecraft could aim correctly and that the instruments were sufficiently sensitive and accurate. This was the second set of calibration images taken, following a preliminary, but much less detailed set of images taken shortly after launch in November 2021.

The faintest visible stars in this raw L’LORRI image are roughly 17th magnitude, 50,000 times fainter than the naked human eye can see. The brightness levels of the images have been adjusted to improve the visibility of faint stars. The exposure time was 10 seconds. Sharp observers will notice that the stars are slightly elongated in this relatively raw image; the Lucy team has techniques to mitigate this effect, and the optical quality is sufficient to achieve the mission’s scientific goals. NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL

The images show that the instruments are working properly and are ready for their encounter with the Trojan asteroids, where Lucy will arrive in 2027.

“We started working on the Lucy mission concept in early 2014, so this launch has been a long time coming,” Lucy’s principal investigator, Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute, said in the institute’s 2021 annual report. “It will be several years before we get to the first Trojan asteroid, but these objects are worth the wait and all the effort because of their immense scientific value. They are like diamonds in the sky.”

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