Scientists believe that Psyche could be the metal core of an early planet that lost its mantle and crust due to collisions that could have occurred early in the formation of the solar system.
Meanwhile, new research in the Journal of Planetary Science looked at Psyche via the Hubble Telescope at two specific points in its rotation, to capture both sides of the asteroid.
Research includes the first ultraviolet observations of Psyche, helping us to increase our understanding of the surface and its possible composition.
“We looked at how the ultraviolet rays reflect off the asteroid surface,”; Tracy Becker told CNN. She is the study’s lead author and planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute.
“The way that UV radiation from Psyche is reflected is very similar to the way iron reflects sunlight,” she explained.
The importance of studying Psyche
Psyche’s study could give us a better understanding of the earliest periods in the history of the solar system, when objects had “higher inclination and crazier eccentricities”, and there would be more opportunities. more collisions, Becker told CNN.
If Psyche was the metal core of an unprecedented planet, a closer look at it could tell us a lot about the planet’s core that we won’t be able to explore, Becker said.
According to Becker, the study also found two possible signals about changes in the Psyche surface due to the solar wind.
“The first thing is, as we go deeper into the UV rays, we start to see brighter asteroids,” Becker said.
“In the past, when we saw that on some planetary celestial bodies, including the moon, we often told us that it was because charged particles from the sun interact with materials on the surface,” he said. We call it space weather, “she added.
According to Becker, the second signal is the detection of iron oxide ultraviolet absorbent bands.
“That could imply that there are some types of interactions with oxygen and metals,” Becker said.
According to Becker, oxygen could have come from the sun or it could already be in the asteroid materials. Becker said more research will be needed to connect these findings with more information about when the first asteroid might form.
Prepare to visit Psyche
The research comes as NASA’s mission to Psyche, led by Arizona State University, is coming to an end.
Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist and lead investigator for the mission, told CNN: “We are making space hardware and ready for launch by August 2022. Elkins-Tanton also is a small author of new research.
Elkins-Tanton explains that the unmanned spacecraft will arrive at Psyche in January 2026 and it will orbit the asteroid for 21 months, mapping and studying it from afar.
Upon reaching Psyche, the mission will be the first to photograph the asteroid.
Scientists plan to provide these images immediately to people on Earth to see and further study, possibly within 30 minutes of taking them, Elkins-Tanton said.
“Everyone in the world will be able to look at Psyche at the same time we do, and scratch their head and say, what is this?” she added.
What we want to know about Psyche
Elkins-Tanton said she was excited about the scientific community’s interest in learning more about Psyche ahead of the mission, which would be the real test of the asteroid theories put forward until now on.
“There’s a chance for people to come up with measurements, hypotheses and predictions, then really find out if they’re true, because we’ll go and find out,” she added.
Questions that Elkins-Tanton hopes will find answers that may help us understand the “ingredients that make up the cake” – our planet.
“Do [Psyche] Is it mixing oxygen into it, in the way that this study has shown that it may have some? Or other light elements, like sulfur, or even potassium, mixed into the metal phase? We can say something about the temperature and pressure conditions it forms, based on its composition, that will tell us something about the size of the body it forms, and What shaped our Earth? “
“One thing we can promise right now is that Psyche will surprise us,” said Elkins-Tanton. “Everything we know about it now is probably going to go wrong when we go there and find out.”
A $ 10,000 million asteroid
Regarding that staggering estimate that Psyche could be worth $ 10,000 billion, Elkins-Tanton said that she was responsible for giving that number in interviews when the NASA mission was first announced in 2017. .
According to Elkins-Tanton, while the conversation about mining asteroids for resources is growing here on Earth, Psyche is not the target we should strive for.
“We cannot bring Psyche back to Earth. We have absolutely no technology to do that,” says Elkins-Tanton.
Even if it was possible to bring back metal from Psyche without destroying Earth, that would likely crash the market, Elkins-Tanton said.
“There are all kinds of problems with this, but it’s still fun to think about the value of a piece of metal the size of Massachusetts.”
Exploit space and our imagination
According to Elkins-Tanton, objects close to Earth are more realistic candidates for space exploration. One of the most interesting ideas was to use asteroids as a source of water, which could be built into rocket fuel.
“Most of the nearest asteroids have no water ice, but they have water-bearing minerals linked in their lattice,” explains Elkins-Tanton, which can be accessed by heating the minerals. substance, Elkins-Tanton explains.
“They are almost like small refueling stations,” she said.
Elkins-Tanton told CNN: “This goes a bit ahead of us in terms of what we can really do, but I like it because it shows how aspiring people can be and it shows See how powerful our imagination is, ”Elkins-Tanton told CNN.
“For me, it’s the tremendous power of space exploration – it gives us the drive to do great things,” she added.