NASA probe set to visit Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

• NASA’s Ralph – a space instrument that has travelled as far as Pluto – is set to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, which are remnants from the early days of the solar system.

• Ralph was first launched aboard the New Horizons spacecraft in 2006m and obtained stunning flyby images of Jupiter and its moons.

• This was followed by a visit to Pluto where Ralph took the first high-definition pictures of the iconic minor planet.

• In 2021, Ralph is set to journey with the Lucy mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids.

• The instrumet will fly by another Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69 – nicknamed Ultima Thule in January 2019.

• Ralph’s observations of 2014 MU69 will provide unique insights into this small, icy world.

Way forward

• The Lucy spacecraft carries a near-twin of Ralph, called L’Ralph, which will investigate Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids.

• The L’Ralph instrument suite will study this diverse group of bodies.
• Lucy will fly by six Trojans and one Main Belt asteroid more than any other previous asteroid mission.

• L’Ralph will detect the Trojan asteroids’ chemical fingerprints.

• L’Ralph allows scientists to interpret data provided by the Sun’s reflected light that are the fingerprints of different elements and compounds.

• These data could provide clues about how organic molecules form in primitive bodies, a process that might also have led to the emergence of life on Earth.


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Prelims level: Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

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