Madrid, 10 (European Press)
The widely studied metallic asteroid 16 Psyche has long been believed to be the exposed iron core of a small planet doomed to fail at the dawn of the solar system.
But new research led by the University of Arizona suggests that the asteroid may not be as metallic or dense as previously thought, and suggests an entirely different origin story.
Scientists are interested in 16 Psyche because if its supposed origins are correct, it would provide an opportunity to study an exposed planetary core up close. NASA plans to launch a mission to Psyche in 2022 and reach the asteroid in 2026.
University of Arizona student David Cantello is the lead author of a new article published in The Planetary Science Journal that suggests 16 Psyche is an 82.5% mineral, 7% low iron pyroxene, and a 10.5% chondrite. asteroids. Cantello and his collaborators estimate that the bulk density of 16 psyches, also known as porosity, which refers to how much empty space there is inside your body, is about 35%.
These estimates differ from previous analyzes of 16 Psyche’s composition, leading researchers to estimate that it could contain up to 95% of the mineral and be more dense.
“This decrease in mineral content and bulk density is interesting because it shows that 16 psyches are more modified than previously thought,” Cantelo said in a statement.
Rather than being an intact exposed core from a primordial planet, it could actually be akin to a pile of debris like Bennu that has already been visited. “A breath as a debris pile would be very unexpected, but our data still showed low-density estimates despite its high mineral content,” Cantillo said.
Asteroid 16 Psyche is 210 kilometers long, and scientists estimate that it contains about 1% of all the material in the asteroid belt. First discovered by an Italian astronomer in 1852, it was the 16th asteroid discovered.
“Having a lower mineral content than previously thought means that the asteroid may have had collisions with asteroids containing the more common carbonaceous chondrites, which deposited a surface layer that we’re watching,” Cantelo said. This was also observed on the asteroid Vesta by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft.
Asteroid 16 Psyche has been estimated to be worth $10 trillion in iron ore, but the new findings could understate that amount slightly.