NASA and SpaceX are preparing to send a spacecraft to a large metal asteroid that was discovered in the 1800s. The purpose of this mission is to gain more knowledge about the origins of our solar system.
Here is everything you need to know about the Psyche mission.
What is Psyche?
Psyche is the name of the mission, as well as the name of NASA’s spacecraft and the asteroid it will be heading to.
The asteroid Psyche is a unique, metal-rich asteroid that orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter.
It is three times farther from the Sun than Earth, and the distance between Earth and Psyche ranges from approximately 186 million miles to over 372 million miles.
If everything goes according to plan, the spacecraft will be captured by the gravity of asteroid Psyche in late July 2029.
The Psyche spacecraft is then expected to spend at least two years orbiting the asteroid, which has a mass of about 440 billion billion pounds, while capturing the first-ever images of it.
The purpose of the mission
Unlike most other asteroids, which are rocky or icy bodies, scientists believe that asteroid Psyche is primarily made up of metallic iron and nickel, similar to Earth’s core.
It appears to be the exposed core of an early planet, which is one of the building blocks of our solar system.
Therefore, NASA hopes to make discoveries about Earth and other rocky planets by studying Psyche.
The space agency states that the asteroid “may provide a close look at the interior of terrestrial planets like Earth.”
It adds: “We cannot physically reach Earth’s metal core, or the cores of other rocky planets, so visiting Psyche could provide a unique opportunity to observe the violent history of collisions and the accumulation of matter that led to the creation of planets like our own.
“If the mission is successful, it will be the first time we have been able to explore a planet formation consisting of iron cores.”
NASA describes the mission as the exploration of “a new type of world”.
The main objective is to learn more about our planet and our universe, but NASA scientists are also interested in studying the Psyche asteroid itself.
We know that it is one of the largest asteroids in our solar system, measuring about 173 miles at its widest point.
This giant metal rock was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis. It is sometimes referred to as 16 Psyche because it was the 16th asteroid to be discovered.
NASA believes that Psyche could potentially be the exposed core of an early planet as large as Mars, which lost its rocky outer layers due to violent collisions billions of years ago.
However, scientists are not completely certain about the nature of Psyche.
Despite being observed through telescopes for nearly two centuries, we still do not have a precise image of what it looks like.
Nevertheless, NASA has described it as “irregular and potato-like”.
They also want to determine the age of Psyche’s surface, as well as its mineral composition and topography.
Scientists have expressed their excitement about the opportunity to closely study Psyche for the first time and learn more about its origin. One of the most thrilling aspects of the mission is the possibility of unexpected discoveries.
The Psyche spacecraft’s main body is approximately the size of a small van. However, with its solar panels, it would cover an area equivalent to a tennis court.