A new study by Southwestern Research Institute’s planetary scientist Dr. Tracy Becker, which was published today in The Planetary Science Journal, offers a clearer picture of Psyche’s asteroid than was previously available.
Psyche has a diameter of about 140 miles and is one of the most massive objects in the main asteroid belt rotating between Mars and Jupiter. Previous observations show that the Psyche is a dense, mostly metallic object, which is considered to be the remaining core of a planet that has failed to form.
“We’ve seen meteorites that are mostly made up of metal, but Psyche can be unique in the sense that it could be an asteroid made entirely of iron and nickel,” Becker explains. “The Earth has a metal core, a mantle and a crust. It is possible that when the protoplanet of the Psyche was formed, it was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust”.
Becker watched the asteroid at two specific points of its rotation to fully view both sides of the Psyche and to outline the surface as much as possible by observing the surface at ultraviolet wavelengths. It is noted that, for the first time in asteroids, it was possible to identify what may be the absorption bands of ultraviolet radiation of iron oxide. And this, in turn, is an indication that an asteroid is oxidizing, which may be the result of solar wind impact on the surface.
It should be noted that the study was conducted at a time when NASA is preparing to launch a spaceship “Psyche”, which will go to the asteroid to understand the origin of the planets’ nuclei. The mission is to be launched in 2022. Metal asteroids are relatively rare in the solar system, and scientists believe that the Psyche can provide a unique opportunity to look inside the planet.
Scientists note that Psyche and other asteroids are extremely interesting in that they are considered building blocks of the solar system. And to understand how and what makes up the planet is not only fascinating, but also necessary.