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Psyche: The $10,000-quadrillion asteroid will soon reveal the secrets of our solar system

NASA is set to embark on its first expedition to explore a metal-rich asteroid through the Psyche Mission, with a launch readiness date confirmed for Thursday, October 12. The asteroid, named 16 Psyche, is estimated to be laden with precious metals valued at an astounding $10,000-quadrillion.

The spacecraft will traverse a remarkable distance of 2.2 billion miles from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to study one of the most intriguing objects in the main asteroid belt, Psyche. 

Metallic asteroid

The Psyche asteroid is a giant metallic asteroid situated between Mars and Jupiter. Named after the Greek goddess of the soul, Psyche was discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852.

16 Psyche 

The object is officially designated as 16 Psyche because it was the 16th asteroid discovered. It’s composed primarily of metallic iron and nickel, similar to Earth’s core, which makes it a subject of scientific interest.

Psyche is one of the largest asteroids in the asteroid belt, with an estimated diameter of about 226 kilometers (140 miles). 

Possible origins 

Scientists believe that it might be the remnant core of a protoplanet that experienced large-scale melting and had its outer layer stripped away through a series of violent collisions.

Economic value

In addition to its scientific importance, the asteroid has garnered attention for its potential economic value. 

The metals contained within Psyche are estimated to be worth around $10,000 quadrillion, a sum so large it’s difficult to fathom.

The mission

The Psyche mission aims to shed light on the formation of rocky bodies within our solar system. There are several key aspects of this exploration that are noteworthy.

Solar system origins

Psyche offers a unique opportunity to learn about the early days of our solar system. Scientists believe that the asteroid might be a fragment of a planetesimal’s metal-rich interior. 

Through its investigation, Psyche might reveal how violent collisions and accumulation of matter led to the formation of rocky planets, providing invaluable insights impossible to obtain from Earth’s inaccessible metal core.

Formation theories

The asteroid’s surface noticeably lacks iron oxides found on rocky planets like Mars, Venus, and Earth. This discrepancy hints at a different formation story, potentially making Psyche a new type of primordial object never observed before. 

Advanced scientific tools

Psyche is equipped with three science instruments and a gravity science investigation apparatus. These tools, including a magnetometer, gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, and multispectral imager, will work in tandem to analyze the asteroid’s magnetic field, chemical composition, topography, rotation, mass, and gravity field. 

Such comprehensive data will offer deeper insights into the asteroid’s structure and history.

Innovative propulsion

For the first time beyond the Moon, NASA is employing a highly efficient propulsion system. 

This system converts energy from solar arrays to generate electric and magnetic fields, which then ionize and expel xenon atoms to produce thrust, all while emitting a striking blue glow in space.

Collaborative endeavor

The mission is a collective effort involving NASA, multiple universities, and industry partners. With participants like Arizona State University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Maxar Technologies, and over a dozen other institutions, Psyche embodies a synergistic approach to space exploration.

Public participation

NASA encourages public engagement in the Psyche mission through various activities and opportunities highlighted on their “get involved” webpage. 

From annual internships and classroom projects to virtual launch experiences, there are many ways to participate and stay updated on the mission’s progress.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

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