Researchers at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas recently used the Hubble space telescope to observe 16 Psyche – one of the most massive objects in the middle asteroid belt. Mars and Jupiter, 370 million km from Earth.
This study, published in The Planetary Science Journal and presented at the meeting of the American Astronomical Association on October 27, has yielded the most comprehensive picture of asteroids considered unique in the solar system.
Is composed entirely of iron and nickel
Discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852, Psyche is named after the wife of the god Eros in Greek mythology. The number 16 means that it is the 16th asteroid ever discovered. Psyche took about 5 years to complete an orbit around the Sun, but it only took a little more than 4 hours to rotate on its own axis.
3D rendering of 16 Psyche
With a diameter of about 226km, 16 Psyche has an extremely different structure than asteroids in the same belt. Specifically, instead of being composed of ice and rocks like the majority of asteroids, 16 Psyche is made entirely of metal, similar to the core of the Earth.
“We have found many metal-rich asteroids, but 16 Psyche is one of the most unique asteroids we have ever known, as it is entirely made up of iron and nickel,” said Dr. Tracy Becker, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, said.
It is known that in order to be able to observe both sides of the 16 Psyche, researchers at the Southwest Research Institute used the Hubble Space Telescope to track the asteroid at two specific points during its rotation. it. At the same time, Hubble Glass also observes the asteroid in ultraviolet light wavelengths to get as much of its surface details as possible.
“We have for the first time identified a UV-absorbing iron oxide band existing on an asteroid. This is a sign that oxidation is happening on this asteroid. could be the result of solar wind hitting its surface, “said Becker.
According to estimates of researchers, the amount of metals including gold, platinum, iron, nickel … existing inside the core of 16 Psyche is very large, with an estimated value of up to 10 trillion USD. This is an extremely huge number, many times the value of the global economy, which falls to about 142 trillion USD in 2019.
16 Psyche is composed entirely of iron and nickel
The remnants of a protoplanet have been destroyed
With such a strange structure, scientists believe that the asteroid could be the remnant core of a protoplanet that was destroyed billions of years ago in the early solar system.
Due to some terrible impact it received in its ‘infancy’ stage, this protoplanet has been severely destroyed, with its outer crust almost torn apart, scattered throughout the solar system. The largest impact craters on the surface of 16 Psyche can be seen as evidence of the asteroid’s ‘intense’ past.
“When the 16 Psyche protoplanet was forming, it collided with another celestial body in the solar system, causing the outer shell of this protoplanet to almost shatter,” says researcher Tracy Becker. said.
Since metal-rich asteroids are relatively rare in the Solar System, scientists believe that discovering the 16 Psyche could provide an opportunity to learn more about the inner core of a planet, in the in the context we still have no way of reaching the core of the Earth.
Asteroids can turn everyone on Earth into billionaires
This is exactly what NASA is planning to do. Accordingly, scientists at NASA are accelerating the development of spacecraft for the mission of discovering 16 Psyche asteroid.
After a period of preparation, the development of a spacecraft called Psyche has completed a ‘critical design’ phase in July 2020. During the period from now to January 2021, NASA will focus on creating the final design of the ship, before embarking on the construction and test assembly of the systems in February 2021.
If construction is completed on schedule, the ship will take off in August 2022 at Cape Canaveral (Florida, USA) on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Then, the ship will use the gravity of Mars in May 2023 and fly to Psyche 16 in early 2026.
After reaching their destination, the Psyche will spend 21 months studying the full 16 Psyche with the help of ultrasound, gamma ray spectrometer, neutron spectrophotometer and magnetometer. Of course, NASA research is for scientific purposes only, not making money from this asteroid.
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