Astronomers have unveiled the most detailed map of the asteroid Psyche yet

Zoom / Astronomers at MIT and elsewhere have mapped the composition of the asteroid Psyche, revealing a surface composed of metal, sand and rock.


Astronomers have created the most detailed map yet of the surface of 16-Psyche, an asteroid that scientists believe may hold clues about how planets formed in our solar system. According to Paper 16-Psyche was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research and has a highly diverse surface of minerals, sand and rock, suggesting its history could include mineral eruptions as well as collisions with other celestial bodies. The asteroid is the focus of NASA’s Psyche mission, due to launch later this year.

as we are I mentioned earlier16 clairvoyant M-type asteroid (meaning it has high metal content) orbiting the sun in the main asteroid belt and unusually resembling a potato. The long-favoured hypothesis is that Psyche is the exposed mineral core of a protoplanet (a minor planet) from the beginning of our solar system whose crust and mantle have been eroded by collisions (or multiple collisions) with other objects. In recent years, scientists have come to the conclusion that estimates of the mass and density of all-metal residues are inconsistent. Instead, it is likely to be a complex mixture of minerals and silicates.

Alternatively, the asteroid could once have been the original body of a particular class of stony and iron meteorites that were fragmented and reshaped to form a mixture of metal and silicates. or maybe something like 1 series, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter – with the exception of 16 Psyche may have experienced a period of iron volcanoes during cooling, leaving highly enriched minerals in these volcanic centers.

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Scientists have long suspected that metal cores lie as deep as terrestrial planets like Earth. But these cores are buried too deep beneath the mantle and rocky crusts for researchers to detect. As the only mineral object ever discovered, Psyche offers an ideal opportunity to shed light on the formation of the rocky planets in our solar system (Earth, Mercury, Venus and Mars). NASA agreed to self-mission in 2017 with the aim of sending a spacecraft into orbit around the asteroid and collecting important data on its properties.

On the left, the map shows surface features on Psyche, ranging from sandy (purple/low) to rocky (yellow/high) areas. The map on the right shows the abundance of minerals on Psyche, from low (purple) to high (yellow).

Previous mapping efforts have relied on measuring infrared light reflected off the asteroid’s surface using various telescopes around the world. Last year, astronomers created a much higher resolution Psyche surface map based on 2019 observational data collected from all 66 radio antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

By combining all of these signals into a single artificial signal, the team achieved the resolution of a telescope 16 kilometers (10 miles) across – about 20 miles per pixel. This view allowed them to resolve many of the differences in composition on the asteroid’s surface. Use this to create a map of the heat emissions from the surface of the asteroid with a high fidelity 3D model itself.

This latest map is based on hundreds of computer-simulated scenarios, each with a different composition of surface materials, while accounting for the asteroid’s rotation. The team then compared these simulations to actual thermal emissions in the ALMA data to determine the most likely map of 16-Psyche’s surface.

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The result: The asteroid is rich in minerals, but its distribution on its surface is different. A similarly diverse distribution of silicates suggests that 16-Psyche may have had a siliceous mantle. In addition, the material at the bottom of the craters changes temperature faster than at the rim as the asteroid rotates. The authors suggest that these craters may contain sediments (“pools”) of fine-grained sand. This is somewhat surprising given 16-Psyche’s mass and stronger gravity compared to smaller asteroids that contain fine-grained material.

“These data show that the surface of Psyche is heterogeneous, with marked differences in composition,” said Southwest Research Institute’s Simon Marchi, a Psyche Task researcher who was not involved in the current study. “One of the main goals of Psyche’s mission is to study the composition of the asteroid’s surface using gamma rays, a neutron spectrometer and a color imager. So the possibility of compositional variation is something the Psyche Science team is keen to investigate further.”

DOI: Journal of Geophysical Research, 2022. 10.1029/2021JE007091/a> (About DOIs).



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