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Why NASA is launching a mission to a world made of metal

To find out how Earth and other rocky planets arose, the spaceship will investigate a metal-rich asteroid called Psyche

Introduction

A NASA spacecraft is embarking on a far-off journey to a metal world in our solar system for the first time. Scientists claim that the only way to know for sure. Whether the asteroid known as Psyche is the rare exposed core of an early planetary building component is to get up close to it. The main asteroid belt, which is located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Contains the metal-rich asteroid. On Thursday, the Psyche spacecraft bearing its name is anticipated to launch.

Psyche does not pose a threat to Earth, unlike earlier missions like OSIRIS-REx that visited near-Earth asteroids. That might one day collide with our planet. About 378 million to 497 million kilometres (378 million to 235 million miles) separate the enormous space rock from the sun. After launch, the mission will reach the asteroid’s orbit in 2029. Where it will spend roughly two years analysing Psyche using a variety of scientific tools to ascertain its true composition.

Asteroid Discovery

Italian astronomer of NASA Annibale de Gasparis found the asteroid on March 17, 1852. Psyche is the largest M-type, or metallic, asteroid in our solar system. According to Dr. Zoe Landsman, science adviser to the Exolith Laboratory at the University of Central Florida. “Psyche is sort of the poster child of the M-type asteroids.” It is the biggest, oddest, and most mysterious asteroidal object among a collection of strange and enigmatic objects.

According to NASA, the lumpy, potato-shaped space rock is 144 miles (232 kilometres) long and 173 miles (almost 280 kilometres) wide at its widest point. Iron and maybe trace amounts of nickel and other metals are likely present in Psyche. According to measurements made using telescopes and radar.

Iron Rich

In the early stages of the solar system, NASA Psyche is thought to have originated as the iron-rich core of a planetesimal, or an early planetary building component. Possibly similar to Earth and other terrestrial planets. The outer crust and mantle of Psyche were probably lost over time. As a result of collisions with other rocky objects, leaving just the metal core.

However, there’s a chance that Psyche is a more primordial object. That never broke apart into a crust, mantle, and core, according to Landsman. “The mission can provide an answer to this important question as well.” NASA’s now-retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. A Boeing 747SP aircraft that carried a reflecting telescope. Conducted fresh observations of Psyche in February 2022. The evidence suggests that Psyche has a core rich in iron.

Scientist Findings

Anicia Arredondo, main author of a recent work on Psyche and postdoctoral researcher at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Stated that every new study of Psyche released raises additional issues. And probably contains a lot more surprises. One of the most intriguing aspects of a journey to investigate an uncharted body is the potential for the unexpected. And we are eager to learn more about Psyche’s genesis. At the joint 2023 Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences and Europlanet Science Congress on Monday in San Antonio. Arredondo presented her research findings. The study of Psyche, according to researchers, may assist them answer important queries about planet formation.

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