Using the ALMA telescope in Chile astronomers have obtained the highest resolution radio images of the surface of the metal-rich asteroid Psyche yet obtained. The image to the right is from their just published paper. From the article:
These new images reveal that some regions of the asteroid have surface temperatures different from the average, indicating that Psyche’s composition is not uniform. The researchers also found that Psyche has a relatively high thermal inertia compared to other asteroids, yet it radiates approximately 60% less heat than would be expected for an object with such a high inertia. The researchers hypothesize that this is because the asteroid’s surface is at least 30% metal. However, the light reflecting off Psyche’s surface is unpolarized, which would not be the case for an object with a smooth or solid metallic surface. They therefore hypothesize that metallic grains are spread throughout its surface material, causing the light to scatter.
Though Psyche is large, 178 by 144 by 101 miles, it is not spherical like Ceres, the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt at 580 miles diameter. Thus, somewhere from the size of Psyche to the size of Ceres we move from an irregular asteroid body to a spherical planetary body, as it appears most planetary scientists define planets.
The probe Psyche is scheduled to launch in August ’22 to arrive at Psyche in ’26.
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