Unique asteroid contains clues to the early solar system


Tools of the trade

To find out the origins of the asteroid, the mission was scientific research will rely on a magnetometer, a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, and a multispectral imager. Scientists know that the asteroid does not create a magnetic field like Earth does, but if Psyche had a magnetic field in the past, it could still be recorded in the asteroid’s material today. With sensors that are mounted on a 2 meter long boom, the magnetometer can determine whether Psyche is still magnetized. If so, this would confirm that the asteroid is part of the core of an early planetesimal, the building block of an early planet.

The orbiter’s gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer instrument will help scientists determine the chemical elements of the asteroid. When cosmic rays and high-energy particles hit the surface of Psyche, the elements that make up the surface material absorb the energy. The neutrons and gamma rays they emit in response can be detected by the spectrometer, allowing scientists to match their properties with those of known elements to determine what psyche is made up of.

Meanwhile, a pair of color cameras make up the multispectral imager. The imager is sensitive to light just above what humans can see and uses filters in the ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths. The light reflected in these filters could help determine the mineralogy of any rock material that might exist on the surface of Psyche.

The spacecraft’s telecommunications system will also help with science. The X-band radio system is mainly used to send commands to and receive technical and scientific data from the spacecraft. However, scientists can also analyze subtle changes in these radio waves to measure the body’s rotation, wobble, mass, and gravity, which provides additional clues as to the composition and structure of the interior of Psyche.

Eyes on psyche

But before this scientific analysis begins, there will be pictures. By the end of 2025, three years after launch, Psyche will be in sight of the asteroid, and the Imager team will be on high alert.

“Before we even get into orbit, we will get much better images than with telescopes on Earth. We begin to dissolve features, see large craters, crater basins – maybe mountain ranges. Who knows what we’re going to see? ”Said Jim Bell of Arizona State University, associate director of studies for Psyche and head of the imager team. “All we know is that the reality of Psyche will be stranger and more beautiful than we can imagine.”

More about the mission

ASU leads the psyche mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California is responsible for the overall management, systems engineering, integration, testing and mission operations of the mission. JPL is currently in the mission phase known as assembly, test and launch operations. By next spring, Psyche will be fully assembled and ready to be shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The JPL is also providing a technology demonstration tool called Deep Space Optical Communications, which will also fly on Psyche and which will test high data rate laser communications that could be used by future NASA missions.

Psyche is the 14th mission carried out under. selected NASA’s discovery program.

For more information on NASA’s psyche mission, visit:



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