In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists have new information about asteroid Psyche, a celestial object teeming with precious metals and valued at $10,000 quadrillion dollars. NASA’s upcoming Psyche mission, scheduled to launch in October 2023, is designed to separate fact from fiction and explore the untapped potential of this unusual space rock.
Psyche’s unique composition
Unlike most other asteroids, which are composed primarily of rocky or icy materials, Psyche stands out for its predominantly metallic composition. This 124-mile-wide space object is located in the asteroid belt, a ring of more than a million rocks orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Some researchers speculate that Psyche may have once been the core of a planet in its early stages of formation, and NASA intends to further explore this theory in an upcoming mission.
Mapping Psyche’s surface
To aid NASA’s mission, scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a temperature map of Psyche’s surface. Traditionally, infrared imaging of asteroids only provides a single pixel of data. However, using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) located in Chile, Caltech scientists were able to obtain a high-resolution image with 50 pixels, providing a more detailed view of Psyche’s surface.
The analysis showed that at least 30% of Psyche’s surface is composed of metal. The presence of scattered metal grains in the surface rocks further confirms this composition. NASA could potentially use this result to plan observations during the mission.
Unraveling the origin of Psyche
Psyche, also known as Psyche-16, was first discovered in 1852. Scientists believe it represents the remains of a protoplanet that was destroyed by violent collisions during the formation of the solar system. What sets Psychea apart from other celestial bodies is its presumed composition, consisting mostly of iron and nickel, making it incredibly valuable for potential mining.
The first ever temperature map
Prior to the planned NASA mission, experts at the California Institute of Technology conducted a detailed analysis of the millimeter waves emitted by Psyche. This allowed them to create the first-ever temperature map of an asteroid, which provides unprecedented insight into the properties of its surface.
According to the authors of the study, these results are a crucial step toward solving the mystery of Psyche’s origin as an unusual object that some speculate is a fragment of the core of a doomed protoplanet. This is consistent with our ideas about the early Solar System as a chaotic environment in which planetary bodies were constantly colliding and aligning in their current orbits.
The researchers used 66 ALMA radio telescopes to map Psyche’s thermal emission. Each pixel represents an 18-mile by 18-mile area, yielding data of much higher resolution than is typically achieved for belt asteroids.
Psyche’s immense value is estimated at $10,000 quadrillion dollars, primarily due to its abundance of precious metals. This asteroid represents a unique opportunity for potential mining in space, opening new avenues for resource exploration beyond Earth.
Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Principal Investigator of NASA’s Psyche mission, expresses her excitement about the upcoming mission, “Psyche is an interesting object for scientific research because it can provide valuable insights into the constituent parts of our solar system. In addition, the potential economic value of this asteroid is mind-boggling.”
Dr. Michael Shepherd, one of the researchers involved in mapping Psyche’s thermal emission, stresses the importance of the findings, “This high-resolution temperature map is groundbreaking. It gives us a better understanding of Psyche’s surface properties and provides valuable information for NASA mission planning.”