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To start with, we should explain where the asteroid has appeared. According to the original NASA source Psyche was discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852. He named the asteroid for Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul who was born mortal and married Eros (Roman Cupid), the god of Love.

Full metal asteroid 16 Psyche
An artist’s concept of 16 Psyche. Image credit: solarsystem.nasa.gov

16 Psyche is one among the pile of asteroids in an asteroid belt, but it’s the most promising flying object. The thing is 16 Psyche is a giant metal asteroid, which is located three times farther away from the Sun than is the Earth. Its average diameter is about 140 miles (226 kilometers) – about one-sixteenth the diameter of Earth’s Moon or about the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego. The body of the flying object is neither rock nor ice. Scientists think the M-type asteroid 16 Psyche consists mostly from iron and nickel as well as the Earth’s core.

Scientists also tend to think the Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet that deformed and changed its initial ground layer due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.

Astronomers on Earth have studied 16 Psyche in visible and infrared wavelengths, as well as radar, which suggests Psyche is shaped somewhat like a potato. Observations indicate that its dimensions are 173 miles by 144 miles, by 117 miles (that’s 279, 232, and 189 kilometers, respectively).

Psyche orbits the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter at a distance ranging from 235 million to 309 million miles (378 million to 497 million kilometers) from the Sun. That’s 2.5 to 3.3 Astronomical Units (AU), with 1 AU being the distance between Earth and the Sun. Psyche takes about five Earth years to complete one orbit of the Sun, but only a bit over four hours to rotate once on its axis (a Psyche “day”).

NASA mission to the Asteroid

In 2022 NASA plans to launch a space mission to the 16 Psyche. It’ll be the first mission to land on a surface that isn’t rocky or icy, but metallic. Also scientists noticed that this asteroid is worth  $10,000 quadrillion. EarthSky notices in its original article that On June 9, 2021, scientists at the University of Arizona announced the results of a new study, suggesting asteroid Psyche might not be as expected. It might not be as metallic or as dense as scientists once thought. Instead, these scientists said:

Rather than being an intact exposed core of an early planet, it might actually be closer to a rubble pile.

The peer-reviewed Planetary Science Journal study published this study on May 12, 2021.

The study – led by David Cantillo of the University of Arizona – found that Psyche is 82.5% metal, 7% low-iron pyroxene (rock-forming minerals) and 10.5% carbonaceous chondrite (stony). Its bulk density, or porosity, is around 35%. These numbers mark Psyche as less metallic and more porous than previous studies. Previous estimates had Psyche at as much as 95% metal and significantly less dense. Cantillo commented in a statement:

That drop in metallic content and bulk density is interesting because it shows that 16 Psyche is more modified than previously thought.

The new estimates point to Psyche being a “rubble pile” instead of a failed planetary core. A rubble-pile composition would make Psyche more similar to other asteroids in our solar system, such as the recently visited asteroid Bennu. Cantillo said:

Psyche as a rubble pile would be very unexpected, but our data continues to show low-density estimates despite its high metallic content … Having a lower metallic content than once thought means that the asteroid could have been exposed to collisions with asteroids containing the more common carbonaceous chondrites, which deposited a surface layer that we are observing.

More information about NASA’s mission and the true price of the asteroid you can find here.

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