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Boulder’s Southwest Research Institute is the principal investigator institution on the upcoming Lucy mission. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photogrpaher)
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Scientists associated with NASA’s Lucy mission, led by Boulder’s Southwest Research Institute, have discovered an additional small asteroid that will be visited by the Lucy spacecraft, less than two years before its launch. Set to launch in 2021, its 12-year journey of almost 4 billion miles will explore the Trojan asteroids, a population of ancient small bodies that share an orbit with Jupiter.

This first-ever mission to the Trojans was already going to break records by visiting seven asteroids during a single mission. Now, using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Lucy team discovered the first Trojan target, Eurybates, has a satellite. This discovery, according to a news release, provides an additional object for Lucy to study.

The small object was difficult to spot, in part, because Eurybates is 6,000 times brighter than its satellite. This implies that it’s less than 1 kilometer across, which, if correct, would make it among the smallest objects ever visited by a spacecraft, the release stated.

While the current data are enough to confirm the existence of the satellite, the Lucy team will collect more Hubble data later this year to better understand the object’s orbit.

SwRI is the principal investigator institution of the Lucy mission and leads the science investigation. Goddard Spaceflight Center is providing overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance.

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