The huge asteroid Psyche, which will be visited by a NASA mission scheduled to take off in 2022, had new details revealed in a study published on Monday (26) in The Planetary Science Journal, giving the American space agency an idea of what wait when you get to him.
The research, led by Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist Tracy Becker, was the first to observe the celestial body in ultraviolet images. With that, the researchers had a clearer view of the object, located in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter.
Through this differentiated analysis of his surface, the scientists noticed, for example, that Psiquê has been gradually degrading. “We were able to identify, for the first time in any asteroid, what we think are ultraviolet iron oxide absorption bands,” commented Becker. According to her, this is a result of the solar wind hitting the object.
She also stated that the surface appears to be composed mostly of iron. In addition, the asteroid has shown itself to be increasingly reflective in deeper ultraviolet wavelengths – such a characteristic could be indicative of a long exposure to weather in the space environment, according to the scientist.
Clues about the origins of the planets
With about 250 kilometers in diameter, Psyche has the largest mass of all metallic asteroids of type M. Previous studies have already indicated that it is largely metallic, but for Becker, it is the “only asteroid made entirely of iron and nickel” .
One of the possibilities mentioned by her is that the object was a protoplanet hit by another celestial body while it was forming. With the collision, he lost his mantle and crust, leaving the part currently in transit through the Solar System.
If that hypothesis is confirmed, NASA’s future mission will have a unique opportunity to see the interior of a planet and understand how it is constituted.