While much of social media was waiting with baited breath this past Monday on the Bachelor’s first night picks, NASA and the space community had to wait til Wednesday to find out their big announcement: Which missions would be funded by NASA’s Discovery Program? Alright you got me there were no roses or rose ceremony involved but still a momentous occasion that deserved all the dramatic head turns of a reality TV show’s finale.
Now if the Discovery Program name doesn’t mean much to you, here are just some of the examples of the missions that were launched under it: Messenger which went to Mercury, Dawn which went to the famous asteroids Ceres and Vera, and InSight which will be going to Mars in 2018. The contenders for this year’s announcement definitely lived up to past missions. Those in the running were:
- VERITAS or Venus Emissivity,Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy (inSAR is used for mapping ground deformation using radar)
- Psyche – a mission to study metallic asteroid
- NEOCam or Near Earth Object Camera (NEOs are asteroids and other bodies that are close to Earth)
- DAVINCI or Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging mission (woof NASA and their acronyms….)
- Lucy- a mission to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids (Trojan asteroids are asteroids that are locked in a particular equilibrium point in Jupiter’s orbit called a Lagrangian point)
And so who won out? ……..Lucy and Psyche! Yeah, you read that right, TWO missions! Both happen to be asteroid missions which is a little bonus for me since that is what I work on. But before I go on blabbing about myself… Let’s get to the details about the two missions in the spotlight!
Lucy is a mission to six Trojan asteroids. As I said earlier, these asteroids are at a particular equilibrium point between Sun and Jupiter. You can think of it as being caught in a trap following Jupiter’s orbit. Little is known about where these objects came from: were they from the local asteroid belt or the farther reaches of the Kuiper Belt (around Pluto’s orbit and beyond)? These questions will soon be answered gaining us insight into how everything in the early solar system began to settle into the orbits we know today. Lucy’s name comes from the famous set of human fossils named Lucy that have given us insight into the early humans. Instead of human evolution, NASA’s Lucy will be giving us insight into how the Solar System evolved. Lucy is set to depart in 2021 to reach Jupiter’s Trojans in 2027.
Pysche is a mission to a metallic asteroid, 16 Psyche. This asteroid’s metallic composition is what makes it so unique. As it matches the composition of Earth’s core, it is believed to be the core of a rocky planet, similar to Mars’s size, that lost its outer layers from collisions. This mission will give astronomers an up close and personal look at something hidden miles beneath the Earth’s surface. Psyche will launch in 2023 to arrive at the asteroid in 2030.
Both missions will be carrying new and improved instruments seen on the OSIRIS-Rex mission and will be using members of the OSIRIS-Rex team. Also if two missions weren’t enough of a holiday present, NASA is going to fund NEOCam for another year too!