NASA’s spacecraft Lucy will return to Earth on Sunday (Oct. 16) as part of its 12-year-mission to visit a record number of asteroids, and the event will be available to stream live online.
“Every time something interesting happens up there, the Virtual Telescope Project does its best to bring to the world the opportunity to have a look, in real-time. We are particularly happy to share this time the Lucy fly-by,” Italian astrophysicist and founder of the project, Gianluca Masi, told Space.com. “It will be possible for our viewers to spot something made by humans on its journey of discovery. This spacecraft will help us understand the origin of our solar system by visiting asteroids.”
Lucy is popping back home for a gravity assist that will slingshot it into a new orbit in preparation for trekking out toward the never-before-visited Jupiter Trojan asteroids. The return visit coincides with the one-year anniversary of Lucy’s launch on Oct. 16, 2021.
Lucy has approached Earth from the direction of the sun, where it cannot be seen. But on Sunday at 6:55 a.m. EDT (1055 GMT), the spacecraft will cross Earth’s terminator line, which separates night and day. But Lucy will remain illuminated by the sun until 7:02 a.m. EDT (1102 GMT), briefly visible with the naked eye from North Western Australia, Timor-Leste and parts of Indonesia.
Following its closest approach at 7:04 a.m. EDT (1104 GMT), Lucy will move into Earth‘s shadow and disappear, then emerge at 7:26 a.m. EDT (1126 GMT). From this point, Lucy will remain visible for between 12 and 24 hours with a telescope, but this will require clear viewing conditions and precise coordinates, which are available on NASA’s Horizon System app.
It is at this stage of Lucy’s visit to Earth that the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 will broadcast its view, permitting skywatchers not located in a favorable areas, lacking equipment or simply not keen to brave the chilly October weather to watch Lucy pass the Earth.
“For me, looking at Lucy while it makes a good use of Earth using its gravitational assistance to reach its destination is particularly exciting,” Masi said. “I’m always amazed to see and tell others about our ability to navigate across outer space. It’s an opportunity to understand how much we have learned to explore the cosmos, starting from our neighborhood.”
Lucy will return to Earth again in two years to get a second gravity assist to push towards the six Trojan asteroids Leucus, Orus, Eurybates its satellite Queta, and Polymele its yet unnamed satellite partner.
In 2030, Lucy will come back for a third gravity assist from Earth, which will send it hurtling toward an encounter with the Patroclus-Menoetius binary asteroid pair.