what-is-16-psyche

Context: A recent study has found that asteroid 16 Psyche, which orbits between Mars and Jupiter, could be made entirely of metal.

The study 

  • Researchers observed the asteroid through the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • Ultraviolet observation: The scientists noted that the manner in which ultraviolet light was reflected from Psyche was very similar to the way in which iron reflects sunlight.
  • Presence of iron oxide ultraviolet absorption bands: This is an indication that oxidation is happening on the asteroid, which could be a result of the solar wind hitting the surface.
    • The term ‘solar wind’ refers to a stream of charged particles emitted from the sun’s hot outer atmosphere, which is known as its Corona.
  • Metallic asteroid: NASA scientists believe that the asteroid is made up of almost entirely of iron, nickel and several other rare materials like gold, platinum, cobalt, iridium and rhenium. 
    • Most asteroids that are made up of rocks or ice. Metal asteroids are not commonly found in the solar system.
    • It is thought to be the core of an earlier planet that failed in formation
  • Highly valuable: Hypothetically, if it was to be transported to Earth, NASA has calculated that the iron alone would be worth more than $10,000 quadrillion.

Asteroids

  • They are sometimes called minor planets, are rocky, airless remnants left over from the early formation of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.
  • Most of this ancient space rubble can be found orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter within the main asteroid belt. 

Asteroid 16 Psyche

  • It is located around 370 million kilometres away from Earth.
  • It is one of the most massive objects in the asteroid belt in our solar system. 
  • This potato-shaped asteroid has a diameter of around 140 miles.
  • It was first discovered on March 17, 1853, by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis and was named after the ancient Greek goddess of the soul, Psyche.

NASA’s Psyche mission

  • NASA plans to launch a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to study Psyche. 
  • The unmanned spacecraft will reach the asteroid in January, 2026. 
  • The first objective of the mission is to capture a photograph of the metallic asteroid, after which the spacecraft will study and map it from a distance.
    • Another objective of the mission is to determine whether the asteroid is, in fact, the core of an earlier planet or if it is merely made up of unmelted material.