Ralph, the most well-traveled scientific instruments of NASA, is set to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids aboard the Lucy spacecraft in 2021. This was reported by the US space agency.
Ralph has been responsible for various discoveries since it was first launched by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2006. It was given a name rather than an acronym, and it enabled the study of the composition and atmospheres of celestial objects.
On Wednesday, NASA issued a statement which said- “In 2021, the Lucy spacecraft will carry a near-twin of Ralph, which will be called L’Ralph (“Lucy Ralph”), and it will be used to investigate Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, which are remnants from the early days of the solar system.”
The L’Ralph instrument suite will help in the study of a diverse group of bodies and it will be flown by six Trojans and one Main Belt asteroid, and this is a bigger number in comparison to other previous asteroid missions. L’Ralph will be used in the detection of Trojan asteroids’ chemical fingerprints and will allow scientists to interpret data provided by the Sun’s reflected light which are actually the fingerprints of different elements and compounds. This data might have the potential to provide clues regarding the form of organic molecules in primitive bodies, which is a process that might have contributed or led to the emergence of life on Earth. L’Ralph will need to have many capabilities in a small, light body structure so as to keep the spacecraft efficient and the mission productive.
Its instrument suite will contain Multi-spectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) and the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA), both of which will be fed by the same optics, which means that it can capture and observe both visible as well as infrared wavelengths.
The presence of such dual capabilities is what makes Ralph and its cousin L’Ralph much special, says Dennis Reuter, who is the instrument principal investigator for L’Ralph.
Reuter added- “Most instruments can image visible or infrared wavelengths, but L’Ralph can do both.”
In comparison to the Ralph which flies with New Horizons, Lucy’s L’Ralph has updated technology. It can detect a broader spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, and also has a moving mirror that reflects light into L’Ralph instead of taking up the movements of the entire spacecraft.
L’Ralph’s infrared detectors are 2,000 pixels square, which is very high in comparison to New Horizons Ralph’s which is 256 by 256, which indicates that L’Ralph allows images which provide more details.