NASA’s Lucy spacecraft recently conducted a flyby of its first two asteroids, with the first one being a binary asteroid named Dinkinesh. The term “Dinkinesh” means “marvelous” in the Amharic language, and it turned out to be a fitting name as Lucy’s images confirmed it to be a close binary system. The larger body measures about 0.5 miles in width, while the smaller one is approximately 0.15 miles in size.
The flyby served as an in-flight test for Lucy’s systems, particularly the terminal tracking system, which autonomously tracks asteroids as the spacecraft speeds past them at 10,000 mph. The system proved to work as intended, even with the added complexity of a binary asteroid.
While the primary purpose of this encounter was an engineering test, scientists are eagerly examining the data to gain insights into the nature of small asteroids. This binary system provides a unique opportunity for scientific investigation. It will take some time to download the rest of the encounter data, and the spacecraft is now preparing for its next close encounter with the main belt asteroid Donaldjohanson in 2025. Lucy’s main mission objectives involve studying Jupiter Trojan asteroids, set to begin in 2027.