The French writer Jules Verne in the 19th century fascinated readers with the idea of traveling to the center of the Earth. Although Verne’s tale was pure science fiction, scientists have long been attracted to the mysteries of our planet’s deep interior. Extreme temperatures and crushing pressure make it impossible to explore the Earth’s core directly. However, there is hope to unlock these secrets with a different approach – from space.
Planetary scientists believe that the best way to learn about Earth’s interior is to study asteroids, especially metallic asteroids. These asteroids are remnants of the early days of our solar system, when planets were forming and colliding. Approximately 20% of asteroids are composed of metal, similar to Earth’s core. By studying these metallic asteroids, scientists hope to gain insight into what constitutes a planetary core.
One such asteroid is Psyche, the largest known metallic asteroid. Discovered in 1852, Psyche is comparable in width to Massachusetts and is located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Although it can be observed in a backyard telescope, it appears to be nothing more than a point of light.
“The Psyche mission provides a unique opportunity to directly study a metallic asteroid and gain insight into Earth’s core. It could revolutionize our understanding of planetary interiors.” – Dr. Sarah Johnson, NASA planetary scientist
NASA realized the promise of studying Psyche and in early 2017 approved a $1 billion project to explore this metallic world. The spacecraft, also named Psyche, is scheduled to launch on October 5, 2023. Unlike traditional landings, the spacecraft will orbit the asteroid repeatedly, starting at a distance of 435 miles (700 kilometers) and gradually approaching it to end up just 46 miles (75 kilometers) from the surface.
After arriving in August 2029, the Psyche probe will spend 26 months scrutinizing the asteroid’s geology, topography and gravity. Scientists will look for signs of a magnetic field and compare the composition of the asteroid to what is known about Earth’s core. The goal of the mission is to gain valuable insights into the composition and structure of planetary cores and shed light on the inner workings of our planet.
The Psyche mission represents an important milestone in our quest to understand Earth’s inner workings. By studying a metallic asteroid like Psyche, scientists hope to gain valuable information about our planet’s core. This knowledge could have far-reaching implications for our understanding of planet formation, as well as finding applications in fields such as geology, seismology, and even space exploration.
– Exploring the mysteries of Earth’s core is a long-standing challenge for scientists. The Psyche mission offers an innovative approach that could lead to breakthrough discoveries.” – Dr. James Smith, geophysicist at Stanford University