Hubble examines a huge metallic asteroid called “Psyche” that is worth much more than our global economy


A new study by the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a clearer-than-ever image of one of the most intriguing and precious asteroids we know.

It is also one that NASA plans to visit in 2026.

Here is everything you need to know about “16 Psyche”.

What and where is ’16 Psyche?

Approximately 230 million miles / 370 million kilometers from Earth, Psyche – as it is commonly known – is one of the most massive objects in the main asteroid belt of the Solar System orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.

It is about 140 miles / 226 kilometers wide, and unlike most asteroids, which are rocky or icy, Psyche appears to be metallic.

In fact, it is so dense and metallic that Psyche is thought to be the remnant core of a planet that failed during its formation: a “protoplanet”.

What is it ’16 Psyche‘ made of?

“We’ve seen meteorites that are mostly metallic, but Psyche may be unique in that it could be an asteroid made entirely of iron and nickel,” said Dr. Tracy Becker, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. and author of the new article published in Planetary Science Journal this week.

Iron and nickel are often found in metal meteorites and in the dense metal cores of planets. “The Earth has a metallic core, a mantle and a crust,” Becker said.

Psyche is truly a unique object in the solar system.

How much is “16 Psyche” worth?

Some think that the metals that make up Psyche could be worth around 10,000 quadrillion dollars. The global economy was worth around $ 142 trillion in 2019.

What happened to “16 Psyche?”

“It’s possible that while a Psyche protoplanet was forming, it was hit by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust,” Becker said.

’16 Psyche‘and the Hubble Space Telescope

Becker’s study made the Hubble Space Telescope look at the asteroid at two specific points in its rotation to visualize both sides of Psyche. He also observed the asteroid in the wavelengths of ultraviolet light to get as much detail of its surface as possible. “We were able to identify for the first time on any asteroid what we think are ultraviolet iron oxide absorption bands,” Becker said. “This is an indication that oxidation is taking place on the asteroid, which could be the result of the solar wind hitting the surface.”

The solar wind is a stream of charged particles from the sun’s warmer outer atmosphere called its own crown. Often referred to as “space weather”, it is also what causes aurora on Earth and may, in Psyche, have caused excessive “space weather”.

A surface of pure iron?

Becker saw that the asteroid’s surface could be mainly pure iron, although he noted that the presence of even a small amount of iron could dominate ultraviolet observations, and in practice it could just be that 10% of the surface is real iron. .

However, when observing Psyche, the asteroid appeared increasingly reflective at deeper UV wavelengths. “This is something we need to study further,” Becker said. “This could be indicative that it has been exhibited in space for so long. This type of UV lightening is often attributed to space weather. “

However, what Becker’s article makes very clear is that although it is difficult to quantify the amount of iron that may be present on Psyche’s surface, it is a unique object, so scientists cannot compare it to anything else.

The mission of NASA and SpaceX on 16 Psyche

The only way we will ever be able to see up close what the core of a planet really is is to visit Psyche. This is exactly what NASA has plans to do.

Due to launch in August 2022 from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, NASA’s Psyche mission is part of its low-cost robotic space mission Discovery Program.

The orbiter is expected to arrive in Psyche in January 2026 to begin at least 21 months in mapping the orbit and studying the properties of the asteroid.

“Understanding what actually constitutes a planet and potentially seeing the inside of a planet is fascinating,” said Becker, who describes Psyche and other asteroids as the building blocks of the Solar System. “Once we get to Psyche, we will really understand if this is the case, even if it does not go as we expect … whenever there is a surprise, it is always exciting.”

I wish you clear skies and eyes wide open.


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