trojan asteroids

Two New Missions to Explore the Early Solar System

We’ve got big science news…!

We’ve just added two more science missions to our lineup! The two selected missions have the potential to open new windows on one of the earliest eras in the history of our solar system – a time less than 10 millions years after the birth of our sun.

The missions, known as Lucy and Psyche, were chosen from five finalists and will proceed to mission formulation.

Let’s take a dive into each mission…


Lucy, a robotic spacecraft, will visit a target-rich environment of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids. Scheduled to launch in October 2021, the spacecraft is slated to arrive at its first destination, a main asteroid belt, in 2025. 

Then, from 2027 to 2033, Lucy will explore six Jupiter Trojan asteroids. These asteroids are trapped by Jupiter’s gravity in two swarms that share the planet’s orbit, one leading and one trailing Jupiter in its 12-year circuit around the sun. The Trojans are thought to be relics of a much earlier era in the history of the solar system, and may have formed far beyond Jupiter’s current orbit.

Studying these Trojan asteroids will give us valuable clues to deciphering the history of the early solar system.


The Psyche mission will explore one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt – a giant metal asteroid, known as 16 Psyche, about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth. The asteroid measures about 130 miles in diameter and, unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, it is thought to be comprised of mostly metallic iron and nickel, similar to Earth’s core.

Scientists wonder whether psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet that could have been as large as Mars, but which lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.

The mission will help scientists understand how planets and other bodies separated into their layers early in their histories. The Psyche robotic mission is targeted to launch in October of 2023, arriving at the asteroid in 2030, following an Earth gravity assist spacecraft maneuver in 2024 and a Mars flyby in 2025.

Get even more information about these two new science missions HERE

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The 2 new upcoming NASA Discovery-Class missions (a category for lower cost missions) announced!  Lucy will visit the Trojan asteroids and Psyche will visit the asteroid Psyche, which appears to be almost entirely made of metal.


Jupiter has a bunch of asteroids that are trapped in two specific points in its orbit!

Trojan Asteroids:

Not all the asteroids in the solar system are from the asteroid belt, there are other clusters of asteroids in different orbits.

One of these clusters (or rather, two) are the Trojan asteroids. They orbit at roughly 60 degrees out of phase with Jupiter, but have the exact same orbital period/velocity - this is due to the fact that they occupy Lagrangian points - points at which Jupiter gravitational pull interacts with the suns gravitational pull in a precise way which allows a stable orbit. (Read more. no seriously, read more. It’s really interesting)

An interesting fact that i love about these asteroids (as a fan of science And history) is their naming: They are, obviously, named after the legendary siege of troy, But more than that - the group that are 60 degrees ahead of Jupiter are called the “Greeks” or the “Greek Camp” and the group that lie behind Jupiter are called the “Trojans” or the “Trojan Camp." Likewise each note-worthy asteroid discovered is named after the characters in the war, in each side respectively. 

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

See our home planet from Mars, learn about our latest Discovery missions, see stunning imagery from the Cassini mission and more!

1. Our Home

The powerful HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took this incredible image of our home and moon. The image combines two separate exposures taken on Nov. 20, 2016. 

See more 

2. Our Latest Missions of Discovery

We’ve selected two new missions to explore the early solar system. Lucy, a robotic spacecraft scheduled to launch in October 2021, is slated to arrive at its first destination, a main belt asteroid, in 2025. From 2027 to 2033, Lucy will explore six Jupiter Trojan asteroids. These asteroids are trapped by Jupiter’s gravity in two swarms that share the planet’s orbit, one leading and one trailing Jupiter in its 12-year circuit around the sun.

+Learn more

Psyche, targeted to launch in October 2023, will explore one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt–a giant metal asteroid, known as 16 Psyche. The asteroid is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) in diameter and thought to be comprised mostly of iron and nickel, similar to Earth’s core.

+ Details

3. Image From Cassini  

Cassini took so many jaw-dropping photos last year, how could anyone choose just 10? Well, the Cassini team didn’t. Here are 17 amazing photos from Saturn and its moons last year.

4. The Colors of Mars

Impact craters have exposed the subsurface materials on the steep slopes of Mars. However, these slopes often experience rockfalls and debris avalanches that keep the surface clean of dust, revealing a variety of hues, like in this enhanced-color image from our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, representing different rock types. 

+ Learn more

5. More From New Horizons

Even though our New Horizons mission flew by Pluto in 2015, the scientific discoveries keep coming. Using a model similar to what meteorologists use to forecast weather and a computer simulation of the physics of evaporating ices, scientists have found evidence of snow and ice features that, until now, had only been seen on Earth.

Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE.

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From a distance of 418 million miles, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft took an image of Jupiter February 12. It marked the first long-range target for the PolyCam instrument, which is a narrow-field, long-range camera onboard the spacecraft. Two images were combined to create the image, one showing detail on Jupiter and one at a much higher exposure to capture three of the planet’s largest moons. From left to right are Callisto, Io, and Ganymede.

In an interesting comparison between the spacecraft’s different cameras, the wide-angle, short-range NavCam took the same image immediately after the above one. Jupiter and its moons appear as white, pixelated shapes with no discernable detail.

Both images were taken during the mission’s search for Earth-Trojan asteroids, bodies of rock that orbit the sun in an orbit of similar length and shape to Earth’s.

OSIRIS-REx, which launched September 8, 2016, was 76 million miles away from Earth at the time the image was taken. The spacecraft will swing by Earth in September 2017 for a gravity assist before reaching the asteroid Bennu in mid-2018.

OSIRIS-REx’s position when it took its photograph of Jupiter is shown below. The positions of Earth, Bennu, and Jupiter is also shown, as are some key milestones in the pre-arrival phase of the mission.



Robert Kolenkow- Trojan Asteroids and Lagrange Points

Exciting NASA news

… as if there’s not been some of that already this week.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL)

It seems that NASA’s slated to select two proposals for their Discovery program missions.

A “Discovery” mission at NASA is generally a smaller mission that happens very quickly. Something like the Curiosity rover or the Cassini-Huygens mission aren’t Discovery program missions, those are called “Flagship” missions.

NASA’s incredible Dawn mission is a Discovery mission.

Right now the five missions under consideration are:

VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR Topography and Spectroscopy): Basically a mission that would orbit Venus (a planet deserving to be visited again) and map its surface with high resolution radar.

- Psyche: This mission would explore a huge, metal-rich asteroid in the asteroid belt. Important and potentially influential mission (there are lots of entrepreneurs looking for metal-rich asteroids to mine in the near future).

- Lucy: This mission would explore a series of “Trojan” asteroids, basically asteroids that trail behind Jupiter.

- NEOCam: This would search for dangerous near-Earth asteroids.

DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging): As you might guess from its name, this spacecraft would descend through the Venusian atmosphere, studying it as it goes down.

If the rumors I’ve heard are true, it’s possible NASA might be able to select two missions from this excellent pile.

What are your picks?