ORLANDO, Fla. – NASA is preparing to launch a spacecraft early Saturday from Cape Canaveral that is designed to study Jupiter’s asteroids.
A UCF physics professor will help analyze data from the trip. Ahead of the launch, Professor Dan Britt sat down with News 6 anchor Matt Austin, host of the podcast Florida’s Fourth Estate. Ginger Gadsden will soon return as co-host of FFE.
Britt says this mission is different because we could learn more about the origins of the universe by going to a region NASA has never explored.
Britt says we have been to Jupiter, but not to their asteroids, which could give us a closer look at how the cosmos were created.
“Four and a half billion years ago, the solar system was a very different place and stuff was happening, things are happening that we are just starting to understand aspects of it. But there’s a lot we still don’t understand and what can help us understand these early days are the remnants of those earliest days and the Trojans (asteroids) probably are some of the least evolved, least processed, least beat up, least chemically changed stuff that you are likely to find in the solar system,” Britt said.
“It’s almost frozen in time?” Austin asked.
“Frozen is a good word for it because it’s really cold out by Jupiter’s orbit,” Britt said. “So, you are talking, you know, 50 degrees Kelvin or so, really, really cold and what that does is it preserves this material from the earliest days of the solar system.”
Austin asked Britt what he thinks they are going to find on the Trojan asteroids and what would excite him the most if they found it.
“We’ll essentially find a lot of asteroids that are huge, hundreds of miles in diameter, but have compositions that are a lot like comets,” he said. “This would be interesting and strange and tell us a lot about how things formed in the early days, how you make planets.”
But, he says he would be excited to be wrong about what he thought they were going to find. He says in situations like this you can be wrong all the time.
Britt said being wrong helps you to learn new things and “one of the things in planetary science is if you are afraid of being wrong, find another job.”
But it could be a while before we figure out if Britt is wrong or right. Britt said the first fly-bys are not for another five or six years. The second encounter is going to be in 2033.
To hear the rest of the conversation and learn more about how the data will get back to researchers download Florida’s Fourth Estate from wherever you listen to podcasts.