The NASA Lucy mission successfully observed the May 2022’s total lunar eclipse. The task is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Hal Levison of Southwest Research Institute. The observation was conducted from a unique vantage point 64 million miles (100 million km) from the Earth.
For a few fortunate hours, the Earth casts its shadow over the moon on May 15, because of which this total lunar eclipse was visible over much of the United States. Not only in the US, but it was also visible from deep space. Despite such a massive distance, the Lucy spacecraft successfully used its high-resolution imaging instrument to watch the moon pass into the shadow of the Earth, disappearing from view.
This spacecraft was launched on October 16, 2021, and is currently traveling towards the Earth for a gravity assist on October 16, 2022, to help propel it on its journey to the Trojan asteroids. Trojan asteroids are a new population of asteroids that lead and follow Jupiter in its orbit around the sun and are “fossils” of planet formation.
Levison shared some facts on this project: “While total lunar eclipses aren’t that rare—they happen every year or so—it isn’t that often that you get a chance to observe them from an entirely new angle. When the team realized Lucy had a chance to observe this lunar eclipse as a part of the instrument calibration process, everyone was incredibly excited.”
Lucy’s L’LORRI instrument is a high-resolution, black-and-white camera made by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. It took 86 1-millisecond exposures from 8:40 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. CDT on May 15 to create a time-lapse video of the first half of the total lunar eclipse.
This impressive spacecraft was explicitly designed to operate at the Trojans, which are more than five times farther from the sun than the spacecraft is now.
In his statement, Acting Deputy Principal Investigator Dr. John Spencer said, “Capturing these images was an amazing team effort. The instrument, guidance, navigation and science operations teams all had to work together to collect these data, getting the Earth and the moon in the same frame. And all this had to be done while operating the spacecraft in a very tricky environment.”