Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles was written primarily by John Lennon about his son, Julian. That hasn’t stopped the nonstop (54 years and counting) speculation that the song is about LSD (Lucy-Sky-Diamonds) nor did it stop NASA from naming its latest asteroid probe Lucy. NASA’s Lucy – scheduled to launch on October 16, 2021 — will have the Sun in her eyes for a while, but then will head out to visit eight diamonds – seven Trojan asteroids and one between Mars and Jupiter – on a mission scheduled to complete in 2033. Could Paul and Ringo do an update before then?
“The Lucy mission is the first space mission to explore a diverse population of small bodies known as the Jupiter Trojan asteroids . These small bodies are remnants of our early Solar System, now trapped on stable orbits associated with – but not close to – the giant planet Jupiter.” (NASA press release)
Lucy is actually named for ‘Lucy’, the 3.2 million-year-old human ancestor whose fossils were discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia. Fear not, Beatles fans – THAT Lucy was named for the song, as Beatles music was played constantly on the speakers at the dig site. NASA chose the name because spaceship Lucy will be exploring the asteroid belt that contains remnants of the birth of the outer planets of the solar system. After launch, Lucy will make two close Earth flybys before heading to outer space. Her first encounter in 2025 will be the small Main Belt asteroid Donaldjohanson, named for one of the discoverers of the Lucy fossil.
In 2027, Lucy will be in the L4 cloud where she’ll fly by Eurybates and its satellite, Polymele, then Leucus and Orus. Then it’s back to Earth to slingshot out to the L5 cloud where she flies by the Patroclus-Menoetius binary in 2033. With her main mission over, Lucy will continue cycling between the two Trojan clouds every six years. The record number of asteroid visits could only happen because of a “opportunistic trajectory” available right now. Asteroid Eurybates was chosen to visit because it is the largest remnant of a rare massive collision, and it has a neutral-colored C-type spectrum – two things that may be related. The trajectory allows Lucy to see a Crayola box of colors — Eurybates (white), Polymele (pink), Leucus (red), Orus (red) and Patroclus-Menoetius (pink). She will also see asteroids varying in size from 1 km (.6 miles) in diameter to 70 miles (over 100 km).
If by chance Lucy encounters extraterrestrials on her journey, NASA has equipped her with a plaque containing messages from prominent members of our society, including the Beatles. And if the ETs are familiar with the band’s music, Lucy’s L’TES instrument has a diamond beamsplitter, so Lucy will be in the sky with a diamond.
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you’re gone
Lucy in the sky with diamonds