NASA and Arizona State University plan to send an orbiter to the Psyche asteroid, which is believed to be made mostly out of metal. This mission could be the key to understanding the inside of Earth's core.
Between Mars and Jupiter, you can find Psyche, one of the only asteroids that scientists believe might be made mostly of metal and researchers from NASA and and Arizona State University will be sending an orbiter to the asteroid for the very first time.
Exploring Psyche’s terrain could be our only key to understanding what the inside of Earth’s core could be like.
Visiting asteroids isn’t new to space exploration with Vesta, Ceres, Ryugu, and Bennu being some of the most recent mission destinations.
And asteroids, for the most part, have been all the same; usually rocky, airless drifting through the cosmos as leftover debris from a chaotic beginning.
“We’re pretty sure that it’s largely made of iron-nickel metal. And there are very, very few asteroids out in the asteroid belt that we think are made of metal or largely of metal,” Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Principal Investigator of the NASA Psyche mission, told Seeker
Researchers suspect Psyche is an exposed core of a protoplanet, which is a planet in its early formation stages and it’s most likely that the asteroid lost its rocky exterior during violent collisions in the beginning of our solar system’s evolution...at least, that’s what scientists’ best assumptions are.
And no one really knows what Psyche looks like beyond a speck of light, and so the 2022 Psyche mission will include sending back camera images of the asteroid so we can take a look at what a metallic body like this looks like.
Find out more about this metallic asteroid and how the team of researchers plans to explore its terrain on this episode of Countdown to Launch.
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MISSION TO A METAL WORLD: Psyche
"Because we cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets. The mission is led by Arizona State University. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for mission management, operations and navigation."
"Unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, scientists think the M-type (metallic) asteroid 16 Psyche is comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel similar to Earth’s core. Scientists wonder whether Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet, maybe as large as Mars, that lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago."
Instruments & Science Investigations
"The Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrometer will detect, measure, and map Psyche’s elemental composition. The instrument is mounted on a 6-foot (2-meter) boom to distance the sensors from background radiation created by energetic particles interacting with the spacecraft and to provide an unobstructed field of view."