Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) scientists are using telescopes to observe the asteroid Psyche in the infrared, providing valuable context for NASA’s upcoming Psyche spacecraft mission. Dr. Stephanie Jarmak is utilizing the James Webb Space Telescope to search for water signatures on Psyche’s metallic surface, while Dr. Anicia Arredondo is analyzing data collected by the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to study differences in Psyche’s composition across different points on its surface.
Psyche, one of the largest objects in the primary asteroid belt situated between Mars and Jupiter, has long intrigued scientists. Believed to be a dense and predominantly metallic remnant of a failed planet, its exploration could unlock the secrets of our solar system’s formation. To shed light on this enigma, NASA plans to launch the Psyche spacecraft on October 5, 2022, with a target arrival at the asteroid in August 2029.
The SwRI-led research aims to supplement the upcoming mission’s study by providing additional information. Previous observations of Psyche have yielded conflicting outcomes, including inconsistencies in its surface composition and indications of possible hydration. Consequently, the JWST observations seek to determine the presence of water on Psyche, which would be particularly significant given its metallic nature. Moreover, the SOFIA observations hope to ascertain if Psyche could be the core of a differentiated asteroid or protoplanet.
Metal asteroids like Psyche are exceedingly rare, making their study vital in understanding the formation of celestial objects. The promising paves of data collected through these various observations have not aligned cohesively, emphasizing the crucial role the upcoming mission will play in unraveling the mysteries of Psyche.
With SwRI scientists at the forefront of this research, the observations they provide will guide the Psyche spacecraft mission, offering crucial insights into the composition and origins of this intriguing asteroid. As our understanding of Psyche deepens, our knowledge of the solar system’s evolution will undoubtedly expand.
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