Lucy Mission 16 Oct. 2022 flyby: an image

On 16 Oct. 2022, one year after launch, the Nasa’s Lucy probe had a spectacular flyby with the Earth. We imaged it 12 hours later and showed it in real-time to the world.

The Lucy spacecraft, imaged on 16 Oct. 2022, 12 hours after its fly-by with the Earth.

The Lucy spacecraft, imaged on 16 Oct. 2022, 12 hours after its fly-by with the Earth.

The image above comes from a single 120-second exposure, remotely taken with the “Elena” (PlaneWave 17″ + Paramount ME + SBIG STL-6303E) robotic unit available at Virtual Telescope. The telescope tracked Lucy’s apparent motion, this is why stars look like short trails while the probe is a sharp dot of light.

Taking that picture was not easy. The spacecraft was quickily leaving us and, after a minimum distance at the flyby time (16 Oct. 2022, 11:04 UTC) of about 350 km from the Earth’s surface, Lucy was already at 260.000 km (2/3 of the average lunar distance) from our telescope, so it looked quite faint (magnitude 15.5 or so). Furthermore, it was less than 25 deg. above the horizon, with some clouds there; a very bright Moon was in the very same spot of the sky, just 6 deg away from the probe. It is hard to have worse imaging conditions than those, but Lucy is there!

To capture the spacecraft, we used the JPL’s Horizons System and asked our Software Bisque’s Paramount ME robotic mount to track it, something we have been doing many times. It worked to perfection.

We also shared the view, in real-time, with many people from all around the planet. The live feed is available below:

In a couple of years, Lucy will be back again for another flyby, to gain more orbital energy for its journey to Jupiter’s trojan asteroids.

Godspeed, Lucy: let’s help us unveiling the secrets of our Solar System!

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