♪ ♪ NARRATOR: About 400 million miles from Earth, an asteroid hurtles through space.
Meanwhile, scientists in West Africa train their telescopes on a distant star, anxiously hoping to catch the fleeting moment when the asteroid crosses in front of it, blocking its light.
MARC BUIE: If you don't get the data at the right second, you don't get the data ever.
NARRATOR: They are part of a NASA mission that could revolutionize our understanding of the very beginnings of our solar system and take the African nation of Senegal one step closer to an ambitious goal: to establish its own space agency.
Space belongs to everyone and it is open for everyone.
NARRATOR: "Star Chasers of Senegal," right now, on "NOVA."
♪ ♪ (birds twittering) ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Senegal, on the west coast of Africa.
One scientist wants to change the fortunes of his country by looking to the stars.
♪ ♪ His name is Maram Kaire.
KAIRE: Ever since I was a child, I have had a passion for astronomy.
And now I'm taking part in a NASA space mission, to help solve mysteries about the origins of our solar system and our planet.
This is a dream come true.
But I have a much more challenging mission here on Earth, to build a space agency in Senegal.
I must prove to my people that science can change their lives.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: For Maram, that begins with helping his community to understand astronomy's deep roots in their culture-- roots that Maram is about to discover go back even further than he realized.
♪ ♪ Just off the coast of Senegal's capital, Dakar, lies an island symbolic of a dark chapter in Africa's past.
Maram Kaire comes here to feel that history and to imagine a brighter future.
KAIRE: This is the House of Slave in Gorée island, and from this place, millions of African people were taken by boat across the ocean as slave to America.
And this is the doorway of no return.
And we can imagine them just turning back and seeing this door as maybe the last link between them and their continent.
It was the last thing they have to see when they leave their land.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Now, across that same ocean, a spacecraft called Lucy is getting ready to launch.
♪ ♪ Maram Kaire has been asked to help that space mission succeed.
♪ ♪ Lucy's mission is to explore what astronomers call Trojan asteroids, leftovers from the time our sun and planets first formed.
These ancient rocky remnants cluster in two distinct groups trapped in Jupiter's orbit around the sun.
The spacecraft will fly by eight of them, looking for clues to better understand the birth of our solar system, about four-and-a-half billion years ago.
The asteroids are like fossils, so scientists name the mission Lucy, after a fossilized early human ancestor found in Ethiopia.
Just as Lucy teaches us about the origins of humans on Earth, Lucy the spacecraft is going to teach us about the origins of the bodies that make up our solar system that ultimately led to the Earth.
NARRATOR: But even though Lucy's flight path has been calculated to precisely reach its target asteroids, the probe is entering a region of space that has never been explored.
♪ ♪ It will fly past each of the target asteroids at about 15,000 miles per hour, giving scientists very little time to conduct their observations.
To help guide Lucy's approach, they'll record events called stellar occultations.
♪ ♪ A stellar occultation occurs when a celestial body passes in front of a star and blocks that star's light.
At sites around the world, observers will record Lucy's target asteroids as they eclipse stars beyond our solar system.
And from the data they collect, scientists can estimate an asteroid's precise dimensions.
♪ ♪ The occultation team is led by planetary scientist Marc Buie.
BUIE: At the beginning of 2021, I noticed, "Oh, look at that, there's one of these events, "a really good one with a nice bright star, and it goes right over Senegal."
And I've already worked with the people in Senegal to do two previous occultations.
My first thought was, "I need to call Maram."
♪ ♪ (car horn honks) ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Marc Buie has asked Maram Kaire to lead the mission to record the occultation of one of Lucy's target asteroids, called Orus.
(speaking French) NARRATOR: His task is to coordinate a team of astronomers from Africa, Europe, and the U.S.
This will be his third NASA mission.
♪ ♪ In these boxes are the tools to capture an occultation-- telescopes, cameras, and laptops shipped from NASA.
But even the best equipment cannot guarantee success if the sky clouds over.
KAIRE: We are crossing fingers to have good weather.
Also maybe praying just to have all the team are safe and in perfect condition at the end of this mission.
(car horn honking) ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Maram is an internationally recognized advocate for astronomy in Africa.
This occultation mission may take him one step closer to his dream of taking Senegal to space.
To view the event, the team must travel three hours outside of Dakar.
BUIE: I don't get to pick which objects come up, where they go, where we need to send crews.
That's all dictated by celestial mechanics and how these things are moving around the sky.
NARRATOR: Marc needs to know the exact position and speed of Orus as it orbits around 400 million miles from Earth and the precise location of the distant star he predicts it will pass in front of.
He estimates the event will last just 3.2 seconds.
Maram and his team have only one chance to record it.
With occultations, if you don't get the data at the right second, you don't get the data ever.
(man speaking on radio) NARRATOR: Timing is critical.
By chance, Lucy is due to launch almost eight hours after the occultation.
♪ ♪ KAIRE: And what we are doing now with NASA is very important.
You know, by dealing with these occultations missions, we are training a young generation here in Senegal.
(people talking in background) MARIE KORSAGA: Seeing this collaboration is a proof that science, especially astronomy, is a collaborative, inclusive.
And this is very important for the development of astronomy in Africa.
SYLVAIN BOULEY: And Maram is a cornerstone of this event.
It shows that for 15 years, Maram creates really a nice astronomical association in, in Senegal.
He know how to motivate people, and there are more and more people loving astronomy in Senegal.
(talking in background) NARRATOR: Maram's passion for astronomy began with an event that shocked the world.
KAIRE: The first contact with space started with the tragedy of the space shuttle Challenger.
It was the first time that I receive information about space.
♪ ♪ (explosion roars) ♪ ♪ And it was very sad to, to know that we lost seven astronauts with this tragedy.
♪ ♪ And I started to read books and getting out to observe the stars, constellations.
♪ ♪ I was 12 and I decided to start to build my own telescope.
And this is how things began and never stop.
♪ ♪ It's our first training night, so each team will have the opportunity to set up his telescope.
NARRATOR: On the night of the occultation, ten telescopes will be precisely aimed at the star that Orus will pass in front of.
For just a few seconds, when Earth, asteroid, and star perfectly align, Orus will block the star's light, casting a shadow on the Earth that is the asteroid's exact shape.
By estimating the path and width of the shadow, scientists can determine where to place the telescopes.
To guide the teams, Marc Buie computes a set of lines designed to cover the predicted region where the shadow will pass.
Each observation team is given one of these lines, and they must find a location somewhere along it where they can safely set up.
If they can record the occultation from their vantage points, Marc will have the data he needs to determine the asteroid's shape and size-- vital information for Lucy's fly-by of Orus in 2028.
BUIE: It's one thing to say, "Put your telescope on this line," and it's quite another to translate to actually standing somewhere.
The last thing you want to do is be dealing with an angry farmer right at the time of the occultation.
NARRATOR: Every observation site must be surveyed so there are no surprises after dark.
(speaking French) Salaam alaikum.
(speaking Wolof) BAIDY DEMBA DIOP (translated): I told them we would be back Friday night with telescopes to observe an asteroid passing in front of a star.
They said, "Okay, no problem."
♪ ♪ (Salma Sylla speaking French) (wheels spinning) ♪ ♪ (Sylla speaking French) (translated): You see what can happen.
That is why it is important to visit the sites before we bring all of the equipment out on the night of the occultation.
♪ ♪ KAIRE: This occultation is crucial for NASA's Lucy mission.
But it is also part of a much larger, more challenging mission: to build a space agency here in Senegal.
I believe space is for everyone.
NARRATOR: For 15 years, Maram has lobbied politicians to embrace these words.
To convince them that Senegal's development challenges can be addressed with space science.
Many African nations have launched their own small, inexpensive satellites called Cubesats.
These eyes in the sky have proven to be vital for communications, weather forecasting, and the prediction of natural disasters.
Maram believes they could be life-changing for Senegal's large rural population, now at the mercy of unpredictable climatic events.
♪ ♪ To build and launch these satellites will take a new generation of scientists.
And Maram Kaire has another goal.
♪ ♪ KAIRE: My country is 95% Muslim.
And many traditional Muslims are hesitant to embrace modern science.
Near the end of Ramadan, our holy month devoted to prayer, contemplation, and fasting, I have an opportunity to demonstrate how astronomy can help Islam.
♪ ♪ There are many people interested in learning astronomy at these events.
I can show them where the crescent will appear by using astronomical calculations.
♪ ♪ I'm really nervous.
(laughs) It's, it's always the same, because they are all waiting for this, for this moment.
NARRATOR: Time is extremely important for Muslims.
Islamic law states the motion of the sun should dictate the timing of prayers.
The Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the moon.
The new crescent moon marks the beginning of every month and important events like Ramadan.
♪ ♪ Maram's passion for modern astronomy inspires many Senegalese people.
♪ ♪ But Muslim authorities here only accept crescent moon sightings observed with the naked eye.
The Islamic tradition is to observe the moon using the naked eyes.
It comes from a recommendation of the Prophet.
This can cause major confusion.
If the crescent is not seen here tonight because the skies are cloudy, the end of Ramadan will be delayed for a day.
But what if it is sighted somewhere else in Senegal where there are no clouds?
When should Ramadan end?
This is a centuries-old dilemma that could be easily overcome with modern science.
NARRATOR: Tonight, in a compromise, the committee of imams responsible for calling an end to Ramadan have given Maram permission to use binoculars.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ (exclaims) (people talking in background) ♪ ♪ KAIRE: It's just wonderful, because we was not expecting to, to get it, because the crescent was very, very thin, and fortunately, we have the opportunity to see it, and maybe we'll have also other information from the country.
So we have informed the national committee that the crescent was sight here in Dakar.
And they have the final word to decide that the celebration will be tomorrow.
NARRATOR: Imam Diene of the National Commission for Consultation on the Lunar Crescent declares that Ramadan has come to an end.
♪ ♪ KAIRE: Everyone is celebrating the end of fasting.
I have been invited to be part of a three-hour discussion about science and Islam at our national broadcaster, RTS.
Well, I don't think that astronomers are celebrities, or...
I'm not just feeling like a, like a star.
Or maybe people really appreciate the kind of information we are sharing with them about astronomy, because practicing their religion depends on this kind of information.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Tonight, Maram has the opportunity to talk astronomy with Imam Diene, who has just called an end to the fast.
(speaking Wolof) NARRATOR: In front of an audience of millions of Muslims, the imam agrees.
Modern science may well be the most accurate way to sight the crescent.
Maram sees this as a major win.
KAIRE: To see this important person saying that it is possible now to use astronomical datas is an important step in what we are doing to find a solution.
♪ ♪ (man chanting takbir over loudspeaker) KAIRE: Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the fast.
We give thanks with a special morning prayer.
Prayer is at the heart of Islam.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The type of Islam practiced in Senegal is Sufism.
Maram belongs to the Mouride Sufi Brotherhood, which is centered in his ancestral home, the holy city of Touba.
(man singing on soundtrack) KAIRE: I am drawn here today by a very unusual invitation.
A family of Muslim scholars would like to demonstrate their astronomical practices to me.
NARRATOR: Maram is about to discover something that will profoundly change the way he perceives astronomy in his country: an enclave of scientists who strive to perfect the measurement of time in the service of Islam.
♪ ♪ (Cheikhouna Bousso speaking Wolof) (translated): When you are interested in astronomy, you will become passionate about the universe.
You will become a fan of observing what happens in space.
(people talking in background) (car horn honking in background) KAIRE: I am here to learn about the work of Cheikh Mbacke Bousso, a highly respected astronomer who lived around the turn of the 20th century.
♪ ♪ The Bousso family wish to show me a sundial which they have built in the courtyard of their mosque.
It's based on one of Cheikh Mbacke Bousso's designs.
They still use it every day to find the exact prayer times here in Touba.
NARRATOR: Because the official time on a watch is not accurate enough for their needs.
(talking in background) NARRATOR: Official time is tied to the world's 24 time zones, and is uniform across a region, sometimes even an entire country.
But there's another type of time, true solar time, which is tied to the sun's position in the sky at a specific location.
Even traveling a short distance east or west, there's a time difference.
Only true solar time gives Muslims the accuracy they need to pray on time wherever they are.
The best way to find true solar time is to measure the sun's shadow as it changes throughout the day.
Many of us have now lost the connection between time and what happens in the sky, but not the Bousso family.
KAIRE: They are not just trying to use the time like we use it in modern astronomy, but they need for a precise, accurate local time based on the position of the, of the sun.
All the life of the Muslim are depending on this kind of information for doing things at the right moment.
To build an accurate sundial, Cheikh Mbacke Bousso needed to understand basic astronomy, and he needed to mark the trajectory, position, and length of the sun's shadow hour after hour.
♪ ♪ (speaking Wolof) (translated): What he used to do every morning for 33 years, facing east with paper and ink, was to write down the times of sunrise and sunset in a notebook.
(man singing on soundtrack) NARRATOR: And using the data collected from his observations, Cheikh Mbacke Bousso calculated the qibla, the direction to Mecca.
The Great Mosque of Touba was built to his specifications.
It's almost noon solar time.
At the precise moment the sun's shadow is at its shortest, it will be 12:00 p.m.
Midday is the most accurate reference point throughout the year.
The muezzin sets his watch by the shadow, continuing a long tradition of finding time.
(man chanting) (man exclaims takbir) ♪ ♪ KAIRE: How did Cheikh Mbacke Bousso come to learn the basic astronomy he needed for his tasks?
Cheikhouna Bousso tells me he consulted centuries-old Islamic astronomy books written in Arabic.
♪ ♪ Comes as a surprise to me that this family of Muslim scholars still practice astronomy developed in medieval times.
They tell me they would like to learn about modern astronomy.
We have taken different paths, but when we look to the skies, we ask the same question: where is our place in this universe?
They watch the daily movements of the sun, moon, and stars to perfect their lives on Earth.
I watch for the blink of a star light-years away to help NASA's Lucy mission reach asteroids that may unlock the secrets of our solar system and ultimately our own planet.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Maram thought he was bringing astronomy to Senegal.
The Bousso family have shown him it's already here.
Maram has many questions.
From where did Cheikh Mbacke Bousso get his books?
How did other Islamic astronomers advance their knowledge of celestial events?
♪ ♪ Istanbul was the center of the powerful Ottoman Empire and the hub for all Islamic sciences from the 15th century right up until the 1800s.
Great scholars gravitated to this place to live and work.
With them they brought astronomy books written in Arabic, like the ones Cheikh Mbacke Bousso may have studied.
(people talking in background) NARRATOR: Maram has come to Istanbul to meet Taha Yasin Arslan, an expert on the history of astronomy in the Islamic world.
ARSLAN: Starting from ninth century, scholars in the Islamic world accumulated knowledge from Greeks, Persians, and Indians, and, using Arabic, created new scientific knowledge.
And that knowledge could be used without changing for a thousand years all around the Islamic world.
I studies astronomy in the Islamic world using astronomical instruments and timekeeping.
The main reason I make these instruments is to understand the mindset of the people who were actually using or making them in the medieval times.
I learn and I understood that science in the Islamic world was not something to be left behind, because astronomy represent all the developments in mathematical sciences, in geometry, in geography, in trigonometrical calculations.
It is a preparation for the modern science to build up on.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Taha has invited Maram to view rare books on Islamic astronomy written centuries ago.
These may be the type of books Cheikh Mbacke Bousso had in his library.
Hi, Mr. Taha.
Nice to meet you.
Very nice to meet you, too.
Welcome to Istanbul.
This is a great pleasure to see you.
Good to see you, too.
Well, thank you.
You have a very, very nice city.
♪ ♪ ARSLAN: Süleymaniye Library in Istanbul contains 90,000 manuscripts, and this is the largest Islamic collection in the world.
One can find any book in any branches of science.
For most of the scholars in the Islamic world, there is at least one copy of their book in this library.
These are the replicas of the manuscripts... (speaking indistinctly) ARSLAN: So we have a special treat here.
And library allowed us to have this magnificent manuscript.
And it is by Jaghmini, who's a 13th, 14th-century astronomer.
The importance of this book is, it is disseminated all around the Islamic world.
When you have any kind of information about cosmology... Mm-hmm.
...it will always relate to this book.
And, oh, yes, that's one of the things.
This is showing the eclipses, absolutely.
This is the sun, this is the Earth.
And this is the moon.
This is what we call now basic astronomy, so...
Yeah, I think that it's, but for this time, it's very, very impressive to have this kind of accuracy.
♪ ♪ I like this a lot, because, in some of the pages, you see so many comments there.
And these are specifically made by people who are studying this.
And not always for, for astronomers.
That's the key, because science is never remaining in, in some sort of elite group of people.
NARRATOR: But there are also books that only astronomers would consult.
This one has instructions to make one of Islamic science's most important and complex astronomical instruments-- the astrolabe.
As a person who makes astrolabes, I actually use this book and the calculations in this book in my own productions, as well.
NARRATOR: An astrolabe has many uses, from identifying stars to finding daily time.
It may have been developed by the Greeks, but it reached its zenith in the hands of Islamic scientists.
They wanted to make better, more accurate instruments to calculate time.
ARSLAN: This is an Islamic astrolabe.
This instrument is actually a mechanical computer.
What you see here is the projection of the sky for a specific latitude-- this is for Istanbul.
NARRATOR: Etched on the base plate is the horizon line; precise altitude circles, marking the sun's height above the horizon; and the meridian, showing midday and midnight.
On top of the base plate is a moveable plate showing stars and constellations and a ring that represents the apparent movement of the sun throughout the year.
It's labeled with dates.
It starts with one single observation.
And we will actually try to maintain the position of this, this piece, exactly aligning with the sun.
I think it's now aligned.
This is a perfect alignment.
And we just read the, the altitude... Yeah.
...from here to here.
It's 54 degrees.
NARRATOR: That means the sun is 54 degrees above the horizon.
The user now turns the astrolabe over to find the 54 degrees circle on the bottom plate.
Next step, find and mark the date.
It's etched on the ring that represents the sun's path.
Then rotate the plate until the date aligns with the altitude mark.
If you take a piece of string from the center of the astrolabe through the aligned points, you can read the time from the rim.
The line is like the hand of a clock.
It's four minutes past two in the afternoon.
ARSLAN: Once we reach that, we can calculate any time.
So that is not a simple-to-use instrument.
But accurate enough for all time-keeping applications.
♪ ♪ ARSLAN: For the Islamic world, time is much more important than any other region, society, or culture, because their lives depending on the time-keeping for daily practices of Islam, or yearly practices of Islam, or even lifetime practices of Islam.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: In Istanbul, Maram has learned how medieval scientists used astronomy in the service of Islam.
This knowledge is still alive in Senegal today.
(murmuring) NARRATOR: But was there astronomy in Senegal before Islam?
Maram would like to know.
He may soon discover that his country's connection with the stars reaches much further back in time than he ever realized.
♪ ♪ Clues can be found along a vast stretch of the River Gambia, where more than a thousand stone circles have been constructed.
They were built over thousands of years, right up until the 16th century.
Many human remains and artifacts have been excavated at the sites.
Scientific research has mainly focused on the burial practices and rituals of the builders.
That is about to change.
Maram wants to look at them through the eyes of an astronomer.
KAIRE: The first time I heard about these places, I was just asking myself if we can have the same configuration, the same set-up, between the sample of Stonehenge and these stone circles here in Senegambia.
NARRATOR: They are one of the largest concentrations of megaliths so far recorded in the world.
But the stone circles are not well known outside of Senegal, and some of them are difficult to find.
(pulley squeaking) There are not many signs showing directions to the sites, and the roads and tracks are like a maze.
But the local villagers know exactly where the stone circles are located.
(speaking Wolof) Merci beaucoup, merci.
NARRATOR: Maram is joined by archaeologist Aimé Kantoussan and planetary scientist Marc Buie, who is also curious about humanity's ancient connections to astronomy.
They will look for evidence of astronomical alignments at the sites.
KAIRE: You have some megaliths there, on the right.
♪ ♪ BUIE: The quest that Maram laid in front of me was to somehow show a different and new aspect to these stone circles than had ever before been realized.
And specifically to say, "Is there a direct connection to astronomical phenomena?"
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: They will begin their survey at Sine Ngayène, the largest stone circle site.
It is inscribed on the World Heritage List as a place of universal value.
Neither the local people nor visiting archaeologists know who built these circles.
(bleat) There is no connection between the people who build this kind of sites and the people who are living here right now.
It's just, like, they, they build this kind of site, use them, and they just disappeared.
KAIRE: Aimé tells us that the circles have marker stones facing east.
There is a solitary stone that catches my attention.
I think it's important because there are other stones nearby that may align with it.
BUIE: You're saying this has a special orientation.
And I'm measuring this angle here to the second stone.
Which, according to my calculations, is where the sun sets at the beginning of the summer at the solstice.
So when I look this direction, I confirm the angle, 124 degrees to that rock, is where the sun would rise at the beginning of winter.
So when I look this direction, this angle is very, very close to the equinox for the beginning of spring and fall.
NARRATOR: The people who placed these stones would have observed how the locations of sunrise and sunset varied over the year.
When the sun reached its northernmost point, it was the longest day, the summer solstice.
At its southernmost point, the shortest day, the winter solstice.
And when the sun rose directly east, the days and nights were equal in length, the equinoxes.
By aligning stones to these points, the builders would have been able to track the seasons.
♪ ♪ (thunder rumbling) ♪ ♪ And Marc and Maram discover that these stones may demonstrate additional astronomical knowledge.
BUIE: That small stone there is exactly north of this stone.
Let me check from here.
Yeah, I'm facing to the south.
So this is a great big compass on the ground.
I'm smiling just because it's, it's incredible, wow.
NARRATOR: There were several ways the stone circle builders could have found north.
One way was looking at the patterns and motions of the stars.
(crickets chirping) BUIE: Right now you would use Polaris, but in the past, Polaris won't be in exactly the right spot, but the stars will still trace out a circle, if you're paying attention.
KAIRE: Of course.
BUIE: Makes me wonder, which came first?
These stones or the circles?
So I'm left with the question of, why did they care so much about this?
What did they use it for?
What was their intent in setting this up?
Is it just to do the metrology for all the other stone circles?
Or was it just exploring the universe?
NARRATOR: And they find the same alignments at another stone circle site called Wanar.
KAIRE: Yeah, one-eight-zero.
...we have a very nice line here.
So is this what you were hoping to find?
KAIRE: Well, exactly what we were searching for, and what is amazing is to have the same information from the Sine Ngayène site and the Wanar site.
The Wanar site.
And it's, it's incredible.
♪ ♪ BUIE: I think the historical record for human civilization shows a connection to astronomy from the very beginning.
Understanding the stars, sunrise, sunset, phases of the moon.
All of that work culminates in being able to fly a mission like Lucy that has to fly through space launched on a rocket, and end up in the right place to study the solar system.
NARRATOR: At Cape Canaveral, the Lucy mission is entering its countdown to launch.
While in Senegal, Maram and his team undertake final preparations before the occultation.
♪ ♪ (people talking in background) KAIRE: We are now loading crates with telescope on the vehicles, and just after that, we are moving to, to the observation sites to watch the occultation.
(talking in background) ♪ ♪ (speaking French) Bye.
NARRATOR: For the last three nights, the teams have practiced setting up and aiming their telescopes at the star Orus will pass in front of.
At 1:55 tomorrow morning, they will know if their preparations have been enough.
To be honest, I feel a bit stress, uh, stress, but I am confident.
BOULEY: I think that we are ready with the computer, with the telescope, but we hope that the sky will be the same during the next two hours.
I'm nervous, I can't hide it.
I'm, I'm a little bit nervous.
NARRATOR: The telescope is aimed at the distant star.
The team needs to capture the crucial moments when the asteroid blocks the star's light.
♪ ♪ The countdown begins.
BOULEY: Please, no more floodlights.
(speaking French) (counting down in French) (countdown continues) (countdown ends) BOULEY: Yes, man.
KAIRE: We got it, we've got an occultation.
(Kaire speaking French) (murmurs) KAIRE: Whew!
♪ ♪ KAIRE: Can I dance right now?
BOULEY: Yeah, man!
(Kaire laughing) (all talking indistinctly) (slapping backs) I was very excited when I saw this occultation.
It's great, you see maybe my eyes shining.
It's just a great moment.
We have the sky very good and very clear to have our occultation, and just five minute after, the sky is getting cloudy, so I'm so happy and it's fantastic.
♪ ♪ (man singing on soundtrack) (talking in background, applauding) NARRATOR: All of the data collected by the teams is sent to Marc Buie, who is waiting at Cape Canaveral for Lucy to launch.
BUIE: In the hours leading up to the Lucy launch, I was getting early reports from Senegal that it was successful, and a picture was emerging of Orus.
NARRATOR: Marc determines the asteroid is 31 miles high and 42 miles across.
It's elliptical in shape and with some puzzling surface features.
An outstanding result which will help NASA plan Lucy's future encounter with Orus.
(people talking in background) WOMAN (in video): Lucy in the sky with asteroids.
In L-minus 34 minutes, this Atlas V rocket will send Lucy on the first-ever space mission to study the Trojan asteroids which share Jupiter's orbit around the sun.
MAN: Named after the Lucy fossil, the spacecraft will visit eight asteroids over 12 years, as we seek to uncover the mysteries of our solar system's formation.
Lift-off, Atlas V takes flight.
♪ ♪ (man speaking on radio) ♪ ♪ (man speaking on radio) BUIE: The NASA Lucy mission is almost certainly going to be a game changer.
What games is it going to change?
Probably the origin of the solar system.
If that weren't a big enough topic.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The Lucy mission has taken Maram's dream to build a space agency one step closer to reality.
The successful NASA collaboration has been praised by Senegal's president, and Maram has found a deep and rich history of astronomy in his country.
Ancient connections to space he never dreamed existed that show how humans have always looked to the skies for answers about our lives on Earth.
KAIRE: I need to know my place inside this universe, and watching the stars and using astronomy is just giving me a sort of answer.
I started very young, and I'm, keep on learning and searching, and I think that it's the most wonderful way to, to live my life.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: The International Astronomical Union have recently honored Maram.
Orbiting the sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is asteroid 35462 Maramkaire.
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