Artistic concept of asteroid 16 Psyche. Credit: Maxar/ASU/P.Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech.
By Zeus Valtierra,
Published by Meteored, 9 September 2023
Psyche was discovered by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852. He named the asteroid in honor of Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul who was born mortal and married Eros (Roman Cupid), the god of love.
What gives the asteroid Psyche a great scientific interest is that it is probably rich in metals. It can be composed largely of metal from the core of a planetesimal, one of the basic components of the solar planetary system.
Psyche has an irregular shape similar to a potato. If it split in half horizontally at the equator (imagine a crushed oval) it would measure 280 kilometers wide at its widest point and 232 kilometers long. Its area is 165,800 square kilometers.
Until recently, the scientific consensus was that the asteroid was composed mainly of metal. The most recent data indicate that it is possibly a mixture of metal and silicate, the same material found in glass and sand.
A multimillion-dollar island between Mars and Jupiter
Previous studies indicate that Psyche is probably composed of a mixture of rock and metal, where metal makes up between 30% and 60% of its volume. The composition has been determined by radar observations and measurements of the asteroid’s thermal inertia (the speed with which an object gains or radiates heat).
Combining optical and radar observations, the scientists generated a 3D model of Psyche that shows evidence of two crater-like depressions. It suggests that there is a significant variation in the metal content and color of the asteroid on its surface. But until NASA’s Psyche mission sees the asteroid up close for the first time, we won’t know what it really looks like.
Scientists believe that it can be made up of significant amounts of metal from the core of a planetesimal, one of the basic components of our solar system. Most likely, the asteroid has survived multiple violent collisions, common when the solar system was forming. Therefore, you can tell us how the Earth’s core and the nuclei of other rocky or terrestrial planets emerged.
Psyche orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter at a distance ranging from 378 million to 497 million kilometers from the Sun. That’s 2.5 to 3.3 Astronomical Units (1 AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun). Psyche takes about five Earth years to complete an orbit around the Sun, but it takes a little more than four hours to rotate once on its axis (a “day” of Psyche).
This intriguing asteroid is now the main target of NASA’s Psyche mission. The spacecraft, also called Psyche, will be launched on October 5, 2023 and will travel to the asteroid using solar electric propulsion (low thrust), after a flyby to Mars for gravitational assistance.
Catch a new Small Steps, Giant Leaps podcast episode on Psyche.— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) March 13, 2021
The mission will explore and image a metal world between Mars and Jupiter — asteroid #Psyche16. It'll measure the magnetic field, composition and test a @NASALaserComm experiment.
🔊 https://t.co/9veSMxtUC7 pic.twitter.com/eZFXJFZWtO
Once the spacecraft reaches the asteroid, it will perform scientific operations from four intermediate orbits, where it will map and study Psyche using its advanced scientific instruments. The main objective is to determine if Psyche is really the nucleus of a planetesimal.
Psyche is both the name of the asteroid that orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, and the name of a NASA space mission to visit that asteroid, led by Arizona State University. The mission was chosen by NASA on January 4, 2017 as one of the two missions of the agency’s Discovery Program, a series of relatively low-cost missions to solar system targets.
The scientific objectives of the Psyche Mission are to understand the basic components of the formation of planets and to explore first-hand a completely new and unexplored type of world. The mission team seeks to determine if Psyche is remnant material from the nucleus, how old it is, if it was formed in conditions similar to those of the Earth’s nucleus and what its surface is like.
The Psyche spacecraft and the solar panels are about the size of a tennis court. The body of the spacecraft is slightly larger than a small van and approximately as tall as a basketball hoop. The ship will carry the latest technology instruments which are listed below:
- Multispectral image generator: will provide high-resolution images using filters to differentiate between metal and silicate components.
- Gamma and neutron spectrometer: it will detect, measure and map the elemental composition of the asteroid.
- Magnetometer: it is designed to detect and measure the remaining magnetic field of the asteroid.
- Radioscience: will use the X-band radio telecommunications system to measure the gravitational field with high precision to provide information about the inner structure of Psyche.
- Optical communication in deep space (DSOC): a new and sophisticated laser communication technology that encodes data in photons. Its use allows the spacecraft to communicate more data in a shorter period of time.
If it is confirmed that 16 Psyche is composed of the estimated amount of metals, it is very likely that it has a value of 10 Trillion dollars, something that will undoubtedly attract the attention of many capitalist nations.
See: Original Article