First Ultraviolet Observations Offer More Complete View of Massive Asteroid Psyche

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The enormous asteroid 16 Psyche is the topic of a brand-new research study by SwRI researcher Tracy Becker, who observed the things at ultraviolet wavelengths. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Researcher made very first observations of asteroid at mid-ultraviolet wavelengths.

A brand-new research study authored by Southwest Research Institute planetary researcher Dr. Tracy Becker talks about numerous brand-new views of the asteroid 16 Psyche, consisting of the very first ultraviolet observations. The research study, which was released today in The Planetary Science Journal and provided at the virtual conference of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, paints a clearer view of the asteroid than was formerly offered.

At about 140 miles in size, Psyche is among the most enormous things in the primary asteroid belt orbiting in between Mars and Jupiter. Previous observations suggest that Psyche is a thick, mostly metal things believed to be the remaining core of a world that stopped working in development.

“We’ve seen meteorites that are mostly metal, but Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of iron and nickel,” Becker stated. “Earth has a metal core, a mantle and crust. It’s possible that as a Psyche protoplanet was forming, it was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust.”

Becker observed the asteroid at 2 particular points in its rotation to see both sides of Psyche totally and mark as much as possible from observing the surface area at ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths.

“We were able to identify for the first time on any asteroid what we think are iron oxide ultraviolet absorption bands,” she stated. “This is an indication that oxidation is happening on the asteroid, which could be a result of the solar wind hitting the surface.”

Becker’s research study comes as NASA is preparing to introduce the spacecraft Psyche, which will take a trip to the asteroid as part of an effort to comprehend the origin of planetary cores. The objective is set to introduce in 2022. Metal asteroids are fairly unusual in the planetary system, and researchers think Psyche might use a unique chance to see inside a world.

“What makes Psyche and the other asteroids so interesting is that they’re considered to be the building blocks of the solar system,” Becker stated. “To understand what really makes up a planet and to potentially see the inside of a planet is fascinating. Once we get to Psyche, we’re really going to understand if that’s the case, even if it doesn’t turn out as we expect. Any time there’s a surprise, it’s always exciting.”

Becker likewise observed that the asteroid’s surface area might be primarily iron, however she kept in mind that the existence of even a percentage of iron might control UV observations. However, while observing Psyche, the asteroid appeared progressively reflective at much deeper UV wavelengths.

“This is something that we need to study further,” she stated. “This could be indicative of it being exposed in space for so long. This type of UV brightening is often attributed to space weathering.”

Reference: “HST UV Observations of Asteroid (16) Psyche” by Tracy M. Becker, Nathaniel Cunningham, Philippa Molyneux, Lorenz Roth, Lori M. Feaga, Kurt D. Retherford, Zoe A. Landsman, Emma Peavler, Linda T. Elkins-Tanton and Jan-Erik Walhund, 26 October 2020, The Planetary Science Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/PSJ/abb67e



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