The Psyche metallic asteroid is ready for an early visit from NASA – tech2.org

The Psyche metallic asteroid is ready for an early visit from NASA



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Three times farther from the sun than the Earth lies a huge piece of metal. With about 252 km in diameter, the metallic asteroid 16 "Psyche" of the "M" clbad is the target of NASA's next mission to the giant rock belt that surrounds the inner solar system. And the space agency now plans to visit it much earlier than originally planned.

The launch is not only one year ahead until the summer of 2022, but NASA scientists have also found a way to get to Psyche (pronounced SYKe -ee) much faster by taking a more efficient path.

The new route means that the Psyche spacecraft will not have to swing around the Earth to increase speed and will not pbad so close to the sun, so it needs less protection from heat. Now it must arrive in 2026, four years before the original timeline.

The main objective of the trip to Psyshe is to gather more information about our own solar system. Psyche is one of the many wandering members of the asteroid belt. Unlike the rest of its rocky neighbors, Psyche seems to be made entirely of nickel and iron, just like the core of the Earth. This, along with its size, has led to the theory that they could be the remains of the interior of a planet.

Asteroids are made up of primitive materials, remnants of the cloud of dust from which our solar system originated. The different types of asteroids resemble the various steps it took to form planets from this cloud of dust. This means that they reveal a lot about the origin and evolution of our solar system. Scientists think that Psyche could be what remains of an exposed metallic core of a planet very similar to Earth.

In fact, we derive much of our knowledge about asteroids and the evolution of the planets from the study of meteorites. Many asteroids and comets are primitive protoplanetary bodies accumulated from the same cloud of dust from which our solar system originates. As these protoplanetary bodies collide, gravity gathers them into larger and larger bodies. Finally, these bodies become large enough and hot enough to partially melt, allowing heavy materials such as iron to sink into the core and lighter material such as silicon to rise to the surface. This process, known as differentiation, explains why Earth and other planets such as Mercury, Venus or Mars have an iron core and a mantle and crust rich in silicon. It is believed that the asteroid 16 Psyche is the iron core left over from a planet stripped of its mantle in a giant collision.

But many questions remain regarding the formation of Psyche. How do you strip a planet of its mantle only from the core? Maybe there is an alternative mechanism of forming a body rich in iron that does not involve differentiation? Psyche may have been once fused and, if so, did it cool from within or from its surface to the core?

In addition, the Earth's magnetic field comes from a liquid outer core that revolves around a solid internal core. Did these processes occur in Psyche and create a magnetic field? What elements besides iron accumulate in a nucleus? And what does the surface geology of an iron body look like compared to a rocky or frozen body?

Avoiding collisions

There are other reasons to visit the asteroids. On the one hand, possible collisions with the Earth can have devastating effects. The impact of an asteroid 15 km wide about 65 million years ago is related to the extinction of dinosaurs. And the explosion of the 30-meter diameter asteroid Chelyabinsk over Russia in 2013 caused injuries and damage to the terrain. We need to know as much as possible about the composition and physical composition of asteroids to devise the best ways to defend our planet.

Asteroids also provide resources. Those that contain water or other valuable materials can act as stepping stones for human exploration of the solar system. And asteroids that cross Earth's orbit can become convenient targets for mining operations, provide materials that are running out on Earth and potentially take Earth's environmentally damaging extraction methods. Companies like Planetary Resources and countries like Luxembourg have already started to pursue these ideas seriously.

The Psyche spacecraft will carry four instruments to collect as much information about the asteroid as possible: a camera, a gamma-ray spectrometer to record what chemical elements are there, a magnetometer and a radio gravity experiment.

The information collected by these devices should help us determine if Psyche is the frozen core of a previous planet or simply a piece of unmelted metal. If it is a nucleus, then it could help us determine exactly what is at the center of our own planet.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal scientist of the mission, probably summed it up best: "We learn about the inner space by visiting outer space."

 The Conversation

  IRON AND ICE


Selected asteroids detected by GAIA between August 2014 and May 2016

Paris (ESA) November 30, 2017


While scanning the sky ESA's Gaia mission maps not only the star content of our Galaxy, but also the asteroid population of the Solar System.

This visualization shows Gaia's detection of more than 13,000 asteroids, since the spacecraft (represented by the pale blue dot) scanned the sky between August 2014 and May 2016. This is a subset of the total number of asteroids Seen by Gaia. … read more


Related links

University of Stirling

Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology


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