Mapping the asteroid psyche reveals its tumultuous past

In anticipation of the launch of NASA’s Psyche probe, a team of planetary scientists has produced detailed maps of the physical properties of the asteroid’s surface, revealing a heterogeneous body rich in rocks and metals that likely faced significant collisions in the early stages of it Story.

The mission is scheduled to start in September of this year psyche Nasa, 14e Discovery program mission to fly from 2026 the asteroid (16) Psycheencircled within the main beltbetween orbits March and Jupiter, and which is believed to be the ancient core of a protoplanet. The probe will then spend two years examining the surface of theasteroidin search of clues to the evolution of planetary bodies in the solar system. But a few keen scientists decided to push the mission forward, trying to (16) map Psyche from ground-based observations alone, giving us a first glimpse of what the probe will see when it gets close to Earth.

The Alma radio telescope for observing (16) Psyche

Represents alone 1% of Dimensions of the main belt, (16) Psyche is one of the M-type asteroids rich in metal, are generally thought of as an ancient core, the remnant of a protoplanet. Discovered in 1852 by theastronomer Annibale de Gasparis, the asteroid, has since been the subject of many observations: its surface composition is particularly well known thanks to observations Infrared made by different telescopes around the globe, but these observations were not precise enough to spatially resolve compositional variations on the asteroid’s surface. A team of planetary scientists led by MIT scientists (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), decided to use the observations of the Alma telescope (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array), based in Chile, to access more accurate data. Consists of 66 observation antennas wavelengths Sensitive to certain thermal and electrical properties of a surface, millimeters Alma allowed the team to observe Psyche with a resolution of just over 30 kilometers per pixel. These data have allowed scientists to create a first card thermal emission of the asteroid and to produce the latest 3D model of morphology from (16) Psyche.

Evidence of the evolution of planetary bodies?

In your new studythe scientists ran several simulations of (16) Psyche to see which surface properties would best explain the thermal emission measurements. The team therefore proposes to uncover the “most likely” map of the asteroid’s surface materials.

Their study thus shows that the surface of (16) Psyche is very heterogeneous, covered with a wide variety of materials. It confirms the richness of its metallic finish, but the abundance of metal and silicates seems to vary around the asteroid: according to scientists, this would be an argument for the existence of a a coat Silicate in the first stages of the existence of the protoplanet that would have since disappeared.

Another amazing property: the scientists found that during the rotation of the asteroid, materials located in the bottom of a crater changed their temperature much faster than the surrounding materials. In their opinion, this would indicate the presence of small areas of fine grains, like the sand on Earth, would heat up faster than the surrounding rock material. This hypothesis intrigues scientists because this type of deposit has never been observed on such a massive asteroid.

Thus, these new data seem to confirm the scientific community’s idea that (16) Psyche would be the old core of a protoplanet whose mantle had been torn away, with some remnants still visible in the rocky areas of the asteroid. But although the study shows large variations in composition around the surface of (16) Psyche, the probe to be launched by NASA is equipped with one spectrometer Gamma rays should give us much more information about the composition of the asteroid’s surface.

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