Tech UPTechnologyThe most detailed map of the asteroid Psyche, the...

The most detailed map of the asteroid Psyche, the space 'gold mine'


(16) Psyche or Psyche is one of the most unusual asteroids in the Main Belt. According to the results of measurements of the mass of this body and the data of spectral observations, it seems that it contains a large amount of metals, hence it was nicknamed the 10 trillion dollar asteroid or ‘golden asteroid’.


What exactly is this asteroid?

According to some versions, this asteroid could be a fragment of the nucleus of a protoplanet destroyed during a large-scale collision at the dawn of the solar system, hence the interest of the scientific community in this rocky object . It is one of the rocks from the early days of the solar system . A kind of time capsule.

It could also be an object like 1 Ceres , a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, except 16-Psyche may have undergone a period of iron volcanism as it cooled, leaving highly enriched metals in those centers. volcanic.

It was discovered in March 1852 by the astronomer Annibale de Gasparis who named it Psyche 16 in honor of the goddess of Greco-Roman mythology. It has a diameter of at least 200 kilometers, the largest of the M-type asteroids, and stands out for its value in metal richness.


How many types of asteroids are there?

Astronomers divide asteroids into three categories. First, carbonaceous or C-type asteroids are the most common type. They make up about 75 percent of known asteroids and contain large amounts of carbon. Second, siliceous or S-type asteroids, which represent the second most common type of asteroid. They make up about 17 percent of known asteroids and are mostly made of silicates of iron and magnesium. Lastly, metallic or M-type asteroids are the rarest, making up about 8 percent of known asteroids. They appear to contain more metal than the other types of asteroids, and scientists believe they are the source of the iron meteorites that fall to Earth.

According to the new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research , 16-Psyche has a highly varied surface of metal, sand, and rock that suggests its history could include metallic eruptions, as well as being hit by other celestial objects. The asteroid is the focus of NASA’s Psyche mission, due to launch in late 2022 . NASA approved the Psyche mission in 2017, with the intention of sending a spacecraft to orbit the asteroid and collect crucial data on its characteristics. The time is almost here.


Mapping to Psyche

Although it has been done before, astronomers have created a new surface map of Psyche with a much higher resolution than the previous one, based on observational data from 2019 collected by the 66 radio antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array ( SOUL) in Chile. ALMA operates at wavelengths sensitive to temperature and some electrical properties of materials on Psyche’s surface. By combining all those signals into a single synthetic signal, the team achieved the equivalent resolution of a telescope with a diameter of 16 kilometers, about 32 km/pixel. The researchers then created a series of simulations to find out which type of material is best suited to the thermal characteristics of its surface.

During their research, the astronomers concluded that, in general, Psyche is indeed rich in metals. Asteroid maps show vast regions of metals stretching across the asteroid’s surface, as well as a large depression that appears to have a different surface texture between the interior and the rim. It is most likely an impact crater filled with smaller particles.

“Psyche’s surface is very heterogeneous ,” says Saverio Cambioni, Crosby Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) and lead author of the study. “It’s an evolved surface, and these maps confirm that metal-rich asteroids are interesting and enigmatic worlds. It’s another reason to hope that the Psyche mission will go to the asteroid.”

The new map is based on two types of measurements. One is thermal inertia , which is the time it takes for a material to reach the temperature of its surroundings, and the other is dielectric constant , which states how a given material conducts heat, electricity, or sound.

Referencia: “The Heterogeneous Surface of Asteroid (16) Psyche” by Saverio Cambioni, Katherine de Kleer and Michael Shepard, 19 May 2022, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. DOI: 10.1029/2021JE007091

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