Maps reveal the past of a metallic asteroid

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created the most detailed maps of the metallic asteroid Psyche to date. They give some idea of what the Psyche probe, which will be launched to it in the autumn of this year, can see.

Remains of a dead protoplanet

Psyche is one of the most unusual asteroids of the Main Belt. The results of measurements of the mass of this body and the data of spectral observations indicate that it contains a large amount of metals. According to one version, Psyche may be a fragment of the core of a protoplanet destroyed during a large-scale collision at the dawn of the Solar System. It is not surprising that the asteroid enjoys increased attention from the scientific community.

Psyche in the artist’s image. Source: MIT

Metals, craters and traces of ancient eruptions

A team of American astronomers set out to create the most detailed map of the asteroid’s surface. For this, they used the ALMA radio telescope complex. During the observations made in 2019, scientists managed to compile a heat map of Psyche with a resolution of about 32 km/pixel. The researchers then created a series of simulations to find out which type of material best fits the thermal characteristics of its surface.

During their research, astronomers came to the conclusion that, in general, Psyche is really rich in metals. Asteroid maps show vast metal-rich regions extending across the asteroid’s entire surface, as well as a large depression that appears to have a different surface texture between the interior and the edge. Most likely, it is an impact crater filled with smaller particles.

At the same time, the amount of metals varies noticeably depending on the surface area. There are also rocky areas on Psyche. This may indicate that in the early stages of the asteroid’s formation, it could have had a silicate-rich mantle similar in composition to the rocky outer layer of Earth, Mars and the asteroid Vesta. 

Finally, craters containing metallic material confirm the idea of previous studies that in the distant past, when Psyche still had a hot core, there were eruptions of metallic lava on it.

According to

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