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