Three times farther than the Earth’s distance from the Sun is a giant metal rock. Psyche is an asteroid of M-class, stretching 252 km in diameter. This is the next goal of the NASA mission to study the rocks in the internal system. The agency reports that they are going to visit it earlier than originally planned.
The launch was postponed to 2022 and decided to use a more efficient trajectory. The new route was chosen so that the device does not have to increase its speed while circling around the Earth, and it will not approach the Sun, and therefore does not need to improve thermal protection. The ship should arrive at the target in 2026.
The main goal of the trip to Psyche is to collect information about the Solar System. Psyche is one of the wandering objects in the asteroid belt. Unlike rocky neighbors, it seems that this asteroid is represented by nickel and iron, like the earth’s core. Because of this, many think that we have the rest of the planet.
Asteroids are filled with primitive materials - the remnants of a dust cloud from which our system is made. Different types indicate different stages necessary for the formation of planets. That is, with their help you can learn a lot about the origin and evolution of our system.
Scientists derive most of their knowledge from meteorites. Many asteroids and comets are primitive protoplanetary bodies created from a common dust cloud. When they collide, gravity causes them to merge into larger objects. As a result, they melt, and the heavy elements descend to the core. This process is called differentiation.
Psyche shares space in the asteroid belt along with 7000 other planetoids.
But there are many questions to the process of forming Psyche. If this is a former planet, then where did the mantle go? Can there be another mechanism for creating an iron-enriched body that does not rely on differentiation? For example, on Earth, a magnetic field is created from the rotation of a liquid external core around a solid internal. Is there something similar to Psyche?
But there is another reason for flying to asteroids. First of all, there is a danger of collision with the Earth. Approximately 65 million years ago, we were visited by a 15-kilometer rock, which destroyed the dinosaurs. And in 2013, the fall of the Chelyabinsk 30-meter meteorite caused serious damage. A detailed study of their behavior will allow the development of more effective ways of protection. In addition, there are many useful resources on asteroids that are few or no more on Earth.
The device flying to Psyche will be equipped with four instruments: a camera, a gamma spectrometer, a magnetometer and an experiment on gravity. Scientists hope to understand the true nature of the asteroid.