NASA has launched a mission to explore a rare asteroid that is covered in metal and located two billion miles away from Earth. The asteroid, named Psyche, is expected to provide valuable insights into the formation of Earth and its habitability. Lead scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton from Arizona State University expressed excitement about the mission, stating that it has been a long-standing dream to explore the metal core of our own planet. However, due to the high pressure and temperature, it is impossible to do so on Earth. Psyche offers a unique opportunity to study a metal core in our solar system. NASA also hopes to capture the first-ever images of the asteroid.
Psyche is the largest among the nine metal-rich asteroids discovered so far. It is believed to be the remnants of a planetesimal or a building block of a rocky planet. The asteroid measures approximately 150 miles in width and has a mass of about 440 billion pounds. The spacecraft, also named Psyche, was launched on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. It will take six years to reach the asteroid, which orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter.
Scientists anticipate encountering spiky craters, metal cliffs, and metal-encrusted eroded lava flows on Psyche. However, they acknowledge that their expectations might be completely wrong. The asteroid might also contain trace amounts of precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, or iridium. The mission aims to answer fundamental questions about the origins of life on Earth and the factors that make our planet habitable.
The Psyche spacecraft will reach the asteroid in 2029 after a gravity boost from Mars in 2026. It will attempt to go into orbit around the asteroid and study it from a distance of 47 to 440 miles until at least 2031. The mission, led by Arizona State University on behalf of NASA, has a budget of $1.2 billion.