Asteroid Psyche may be the core of a never-formed planet

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(ORDO NEWS) — New 2D and 3D simulations of collisions with the asteroid Psyche, the largest asteroid in the Main Belt, indicate that the asteroid is likely made of metal and has a porous structure, reminiscent of a floating space scrap heap. Information about this object plays a large role in the preparation of NASA‘s upcoming asteroid mission, Psyche: Journey to a Metal World, which is scheduled to launch in 2022.

“This mission will be the first mission to a metal asteroid, and the more we in the scientific community learn about Psyche prior to launch, the more adequate the probe’s onboard instruments and software will be,” said Wendy K. Caldwell ) from Los Alamos National Laboratory, US, who is the main author of the new study.

“Psyche is an extremely interesting body to study, because it is the remnants of a planetary core that was torn apart during the accretion phase, and studying Psyche, we can get new, valuable information about the formation of planets, if this asteroid is indeed metallic.”

The team pioneered a 3D simulation of the formation of the largest impact crater on the surface of Psyche and was able to use it to predict the chemical composition of the asteroid. The basic principle on which this method is based is that the nature of the deformation of metals is significantly different from the nature of the deformation of other materials characteristic of asteroids, such as silicates, therefore, knowing the nature of the deformation from observational data, it is possible, by modeling a collision, to estimate the composition of the material asteroid.

The results obtained by Caldwell’s team generally support early observational estimates of the chemical composition of Psyche. Of particular interest is the material that gave the most exact match – it is called “monel” and is a copper-nickel alloy.

The raw material for obtaining this alloy is ore mined from the Sudbury impact crater, located in Canada. It is believed that this ore is of extraterrestrial origin and was delivered to our planet as part of the asteroid that formed this impact crater. The success of the modeling sessions carried out using the Monel alloy as the material of the asteroid Psyche shows that the material of the asteroid behaves in a collision similar to other metals of extraterrestrial origin, the authors noted.


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