The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Lucy mission captured the first images of Dinkinesh, the first of 10 objects it will fly by during a 12-year journey in the main asteroid belt.
Lucy took two photos on September 2nd and 5th, 2023. On the left, the image flickers between these first two images of Dinkinesh. On the right, the asteroid is surrounded by a circle to make it easier to locate, NASA reports.
Lucy, who left Earth on October 16, 2021, captured these images while 23 million kilometers away from the asteroid, which is just 1 kilometer wide. Over the next two months, Lucy will continue towards Dinkinesh until it reaches its closest approach of 425 kilometers on November 1, 2023.
Lucy’s team will use this encounter as an opportunity to test spacecraft systems and procedures, with a focus on the spacecraft’s terminal tracking system, which is designed to keep the asteroid within the field of view of the instruments while the spacecraft travels at a speed of 4.5 km/s flies by.
Lucy will continue to photograph the asteroid in the coming months as part of its optical navigation program, which uses the asteroid’s apparent position against the stellar background to determine the relative positions of Lucy and Dinkinesh and ensure an accurate flyby. Dinkinesh will remain an unresolved point of light during the long approach and will not begin to show surface detail until the rendezvous day.
The brightest star in this field of view is HD 34258, a magnitude 7.6 star in the constellation Auriga that is too faint to be seen with the naked eye from Earth.
At this distance, Dinkinesh has a magnitude of only 19, making it about 150,000 times fainter than this star. Celestial North is located to the right of the map and is approximately 120,000 km.
The observations were made with Lucy’s high-resolution camera, the L’LORRI (short for Lucy LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) instrument.