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Asteroid worth up to $700 quintillion mapped in highest resolution yet

Ahead of a visit from NASA spacecraft launching later this year, MIT researchers have mapped 20 miles of 16 Psyche per map pixel.

Published Jun 17, 2022 4:32 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Jul 12 2022 8:32 AM CDT

A study on the asteroid titled "The Heterogeneous Surface of Asteroid (16) Psyche" has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

The 16 Psyche asteroid is scheduled to be visited by a NASA probe that will launch later in 2022. The spacecraft will visit the asteroid belt occupying the region between Mars and Jupiter, comprising remnants from the solar system's formation. One such remnant is the 16 Psyche asteroid, thought to be the core of an ancient planet, which contains a large number of valuable metals, producing an estimated value of as high as $700 quintillion.

Before the NASA probe is launched and reaches the asteroid to begin an almost two-year-long mission orbiting and analyzing it, researchers from MIT have mapped 16 Psyche in the highest resolution yet, coming in at roughly 20 miles (32.1 kilometers) per pixel. They combined signals from radio antennas at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile before running hundreds of simulations to determine the surface composition.

"Psyche's surface is very heterogeneous. It's an evolved surface, and these maps confirm that metal-rich asteroids are interesting, enigmatic worlds. It's another reason to look forward to the Psyche mission going to the asteroid," said lead author Saverio Cambioni, the Crosby Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).

"These data show that Psyche's surface is heterogeneous, with possible remarkable variations in composition. One of the primary goals of the Psyche mission is to study the composition of the asteroid surface using its gamma rays and neutron spectrometer and a color imager. So, the possible presence of compositional heterogeneties is something that the Psyche Science Team is eager to study more," said Simone Marchi, staff scientist at the Southwest Research Institute and a co-investigator on NASA's Psyche mission, who was not involved in the current study.

You can read more from the study here.

Asteroid worth up to $700 quintillion mapped in highest resolution yet 01 |
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