NASA’s probe was on its way to Psyche, an asteroid composed almost entirely of metal. The spacecraft will travel about 3.5 billion kilometers from Kennedy Space Center to the main asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter. It will arrive sometime in 2029 to finally reveal precisely the nature of this strange space object.
The mission’s goal can be summed up, in the words of Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Psyche’s principal investigator, as “to investigate outer space to study inner space.” The object is 226 kilometers wide, and contains at least 12 trillion kilograms of metals, including iron, nickel and gold. It is the first space object to be discovered that consists mainly of metal. Due to its prominent features, scientists hypothesize that Psyche could be the core of a failed or destroyed planet.
In the solar system there are only a series of structures with proportions and compositions similar to the psyche: the cores of the Earth, the Moon, Mars and Mercury. Although geologists have been studying the planet’s center for decades, they have been unable to contact it. Arriving at the alien object will likely be the first time humans have come face to face with a planetary core. If this hypothesis turns out to be correct, the probe will have a unique opportunity to study the process of planet formation and evolution. On the other hand, if the results indicate that it is not an exposed core, then Psyche is a never-before-seen solar system object. Either possibility is of interest to the scientific community.
The probe is equipped with a magnetometer. It will search for evidence of an ancient magnetic field in the main body of the asteroid belt. It also has a neutron and gamma ray spectrometer that will check the chemical composition of the asteroid. Finally, a multispectral imager will provide information about its mineral composition.
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