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Scientists have devised one of the most detailed maps yet of the asteroid, “Psyche,” ahead of a mission to investigate the chunk of rock later this year.
The map, released in the paper “The Heterogeneous Surface of Asteroid (16) Psyche” in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, was constructed with an array of advanced telescopes in northern Chile that constructed the asteroid’s surface.
16 Psyche, the “Gold-mine asteroid” (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)
“Psyche’s surface is very heterogeneous,” said the study’s lead author, Saverio Cambioni, of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). “It’s an evolved surface, and these maps confirm that metal-rich asteroids are interesting enigmatic worlds. It’s another reason to look forward to the Psyche mission going to the asteroid.”
Psyche is sometimes referred to as the “Gold-mine asteroid” because of the large quantities iron and nickel on its surface. Scientists refer to it as a metal, or m-type, asteroid. These are the rarest types of asteroids, making up about 8% of all asteroids in the known universe.
Psyche is also considered a “dwarf planet” because it’s roughly 140 miles in diameter. It’s sometimes referred to as 16 Psyche because it was the 16th minor planet discovered and thought to be the core of an early planet.
A mission to the metallic mini-world is planned for late September 2022. A spacecraft, using solar-electric propulsion, and gravity-assisted maneuvering is expected to arrive at Psyche in 2026. There, it will spend 21 months studying the asteroid, following four separate orbital paths.
By studying the surface of the asteroid, scientists hope to have a better understanding of Earth and how differentiated bodies form.