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Intersection: What Can Ancient Asteroids Teach Us About Life On Earth?

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Dan Britt is part of a team that will study some of the oldest asteroids in the solar system. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

What can a bunch of asteroids flying around in deep space tell us about life on earth? University of Central Florida physics professor Dan Britt is part of a NASA team that’s getting ready to launch a mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, some of the oldest in the Solar System.

“These are extremely primitive asteroids. What we’re trying to do is find out what they’re like: their basic physical and chemical properties,” says Britt.

Britt says NASA picked his team’s proposal to study these asteroids from 25 other proposals.

“One of the amazing things that NASA does is every few years it opens to the scientific community to write a proposal for a full mission,” says Britt.

“It’s basically asking for great ideas from the scientific community. And we were lucky enough to win out of a field of 25 very competitive submissions.”

The mission is named Lucy after the 3.2 million year old fossil hominid skeleton, discovered in the great rift valley in African in 1974. The space craft launches in 2021, and won’t make its first fly by of the Trojan asteroids until 5 years later.

“I’ll be 80 for the last fly by, so I’m already looking around for somebody to do the work,” says Britt.

He says the information they get from these asteroids will help scientists understand how the solar system was formed.

“And then broaden that understanding to the rest of the universe, and use that to try to find what’s going on in other solar systems and potentially find habitable planets.”


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About Matthew Peddie

Matt Peddie