Will NASA's Lucy probe find signs of alien life at the Trojan asteroids?

Will NASA's Lucy probe find signs of alien life at the Trojan asteroids?
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On Oct. 16, if all goes well, NASA will launch a Discovery-class space probe dubbed “Lucy” on a 12-year journey to visit the Trojan asteroids, which are clustered around two of the Jupiter-Sun Lagrange points. If scientist Jacob Haqq-Misra, Ph.D., is correct, Lucy has a chance of discovering evidence of intelligent alien life.

Trojan asteroids are debris leftover from the beginning of the Solar System that have drifted about and become locked into place at two of the Jupiter-Sun Lagrange points. According to NASA, “Lagrange points are positions in space where objects sent there tend to stay put. At Lagrange points, the gravitational pull of two large masses precisely equals the centripetal force required for a small object to move with them.” 

The Trojan asteroids represent a wide variety of space rocks. NASA notes. “The dark-red P- and D-type Trojans resemble those found in the Kuiper Belt of icy bodies that extends beyond the orbit of Neptune. The C-types are found mostly in the outer parts of the Main Belt of asteroids, between Mars and Jupiter. All of the Trojans are thought to be abundant in dark carbon compounds. Below an insulating blanket of dust, they are probably rich in water and other volatile substances.” The Lucy mission should uncover much data about the early Solar System by examining specific Trojan objects plus a main belt asteroid along the way.

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According to Debrief, Haqq-Misra — an astrobiologist with the Blue Marble Institute of Science, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle — thinks that something else may be lurking at the Jupiter-Sun Lagrange points. His idea is that derelict alien spacecraft, either those that have come to grief or robotic probes that have finished their missions, may be found among the Trojan asteroids. Over the eons, just like the asteroids, possible alien craft may have found their final resting place at the Jupiter-Sun Lagrange points.

Haqq-Misra suggests examining the Lagrange points with telescopes — optical, to detect whether objects exist that reflect sunlight, indicating that they are artificial — and infrared, indicating heat loss. However, Lucy may represent an opportunity to determine whether Haqq-Misra’s hypothesis has any validity.

The idea that alien spacecraft may be visiting Earth has moved out of the realm of conspiracy theories and popular culture to serious scientific study. A recent Defense Department report on what it called “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” (UAPs) was inconclusive about whether any of them were alien in origin. However, the fact remains that military pilots have observed UAPs that have exhibited unusual flight characteristics. Not all of them can be explained away as natural atmospheric phenomena or even possible foreign adversarial systems (i.e. Russian or Chinese). The report concluded that no proof exists that some of these sightings are of alien craft, but they cannot be ruled out, either.

Right now, using Lucy to sniff out possible alien spacecraft that may lurk among the Trojan Asteroids is on no one’s radar. Whether room exists on the mission timeline to use Lucy’s instruments to hunt for such objects is an unanswered question.

One idea would be to take up Haqq-Misra’s suggestion to turn telescopes onto the Jupiter-Sun Lagrange points to look for any indications that aliens may have visited our Solar System in the distant past. If such a search detects any object that is a suitable candidate for being an alien spacecraft, then Lucy could be tasked with examining it more closely once the space probe is near enough.

The addition of a search for derelict alien spacecraft as part of Lucy’s mission may be considered a low possibility of success but high reward operation. The possibility of a history-changing discovery taking place cannot be entirely discounted, however.

One of the great questions of science is, “are we alone in the universe?” Most scientists suggest that the law of averages means that intelligent life must have evolved on other worlds than ours. Proof that not only do other civilizations exist, but they have advanced enough to send spacecraft across interstellar distances would change everything. 

If someone else could solve the same problems now afflicting human civilization — poverty, environmental degradation, armed conflict and political mendacity — to reach for the stars, then surely the human race can do the same. Some hope for a better future would not be a bad thing, everything considered.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of space exploration studies Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond, and Why is America Going Back to the Moon? He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.