Psyche was discovered by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852. He named the asteroid after Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul who was born mortal and married Eros (the Roman Cupid), the god of love.
The scientific interest of the asteroid Psyche lies in the fact that it is probably rich in metals. It could be composed largely of metal from the core of a planetesimal, one of the basic components of the Sun’s planetary system.
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Psyche has the irregular shape of a potato. If it were bisected horizontally at the equator (imagine a flattened oval), it would measure 280 kilometers in diameter 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 made mostly of metal. The most recent data indicate that it is probably a mixture of metal and silicate, the same material found in glass and sand.
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A multi-million dollar island between Mars and Jupiter
Previous studies indicate that Psyche is probably made of a mixture of rock and metal, with metal accounting for between 30 and 60% of its volume. The composition was determined by radar observations and measurements of the asteroid’s thermal inertia (the rate at which an object gains or radiates heat).
By combining optical and radar observations, scientists generated a 3D model of Psyche that shows the presence of two crater-like depressions. This suggests that there are significant variations in the metal content of the asteroid and in the color of 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.
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Scientists believe it may be composed significant amounts of metal from the core of a planetesimal, one of the building blocks of our solar system. The asteroid probably survived multiple violent collisions, which were common during the formation of the solar system. It could therefore teach us how the core of the Earth and the cores of other rocky or terrestrial planets were formed.
Psyche orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, at a distance between 378 million and 497 million kilometers from the Sun. This represents 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 orbit the Sun, but it takes a little more than four hours to rotate once around its axis (one Psyche “day”).
This intriguing asteroid is now the main target of the Psyche mission of the NASA. The spacecraft, also called Psyche, will launch on October 5, 2023 and travel to the asteroid using solar electric propulsion (low thrust), after a flyby of Mars for gravitational assistance.
Once the probe reaches the asteroid, it will conduct science operations from four intermediate orbits, where it will map and study Psyche using its advanced science instruments. The main objective is to determine if Psyche is really the core of a planetesimal.
Psyche is the name of the asteroid that orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, and the name of a NASA space mission to visit this asteroid, led by theArizona State University.
The mission was chosen by NASA on January 4, 2017 as one of two missions in the agency’s Discovery program, a series of relatively low-cost missions to targets in the solar system.
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The scientific objectives of the Psyché mission are to understand the fundamentals of planet formation and to explore a totally new and unexplored kind of world first hand.
The mission team is trying to determine if Psyche is leftover material from the core, how old it is, whether it formed under conditions similar to the Earth’s core and what its surface looks like.
Artist’s concept of the Psyche mission. Credit: NASA/JPL.
The Psyche spacecraft and its solar panels are about the size of a tennis court. The spacecraft body is slightly larger than a small truck and almost as tall as a basketball hoop.
The Psyche probe will carry state-of-the-art instruments, listed below:
Imageur multispectral : it will provide high resolution images using filters to differentiate between metallic and silicate components.Gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer: it will detect, measure and map the elemental composition of the asteroid.Magnetometer: designed to detect and measure the residual magnetic field of the asteroid.Radioscience : it will use the X-band radio telecommunications system to measure the gravitational field with high precision to provide information about the internal structure of Psyche.Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC): new sophisticated laser communication technology that encodes data in photons. Its use allows spacecraft to communicate more data in a shorter amount of time.
If it is confirmed that 16 Psyche consists of the estimated amount of metals, it is very likely to be worth 10 trillion dollars, which will undoubtedly attract the attention of many capitalist nations.
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