Astronomers and space enthusiasts have been intrigued by the mysterious Psyche asteroid for years. This asteroid, which is 173 miles across at its widest point, orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Psyche has long been thought to be composed primarily of metal, and recent findings from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) have shed new light on its enigmatic nature.
Initial data on Psyche was gathered using SOFIA, a now-retired Boeing aircraft modified to carry a telescope. The flying telescope gathered data free from distortion caused by Earth’s lower atmosphere and used its infrared cameras to make observations about every part of Psyche’s surface. SOFIA’s data helped scientists confirm that Psyche is, in fact, likely to be made of metal.
The implications of these findings are profound. Psyche may represent a unique and invaluable window into the history of our solar system. Scientists have hypothesized that Psyche could be part or all of an iron-rich core called a planetesimal, or the inner core of what could potentially become a full planet. If this is the case, studying the asteroid’s composition may help scientists glean insights into the processes that shaped our early solar system and would give us information about the core of other planets. It’s also possible the asteroid is a fragment of some other metal rich body in in our solar system. Only time and study will reveal the truth.
NASA found the information SOFIA gathered on Psyche to be so compelling that they launched a full mission to the asteroid on October 13, 2023. The mission has a laundry list of interesting goals and objectives, including deeper understanding of iron cores, determining a relative age of Psyche’s surface materials, and the composition of the asteroid. The Psyche spacecraft is set to reach the asteroid in 2029 and stay in its orbit for nearly two years gathering data.
SOFIA and the Psyche mission are steps into further unraveling cosmic mysteries. As we continue to plumb the secrets of the Psyche asteroid, we may uncover clues to our solar system’s formation. Psyche serves as a tantalizing puzzle waiting to be solved, promising the hope of scientific revelations for future generations.