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Remember the asteroid Psyche? It’s the largest known asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s been in the news because of its unusual properties, and because NASA plans to launch a mission to Psyche in 2022.
Psyche, aka 16 Psyche, is unusual because it’s quite different from other asteroids. Psyche appears to be the remnant, exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet. Because of that, Psyche is a building block left over from the early Solar System, when planets were still forming. It’s like a planet without a crust.
Psyche - Characteristic - Scientists - Dense - Fact
But Psyche has another weird characteristic that scientists are keen to study: it’s much less dense than it should be, given the fact that it’s largely composed of iron and nickel.
A new theory tries to explain how this iron-nickel asteroid, with a metallic surface, could have a density far lower than it should.
Psyche - Class - Asteroid - Pallasite - Peter
Psyche is a class of asteroid called a pallasite, after Peter Pallas, a German who studied the Krasnoyarsk meteorite in 1722. That rock fell to Earth near the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk, and was the first pallasite ever found. Those were back in the days when nobody believed meteorites even came from space. It weighed about 700 kg (1500 lb) and is one of only 61 pallasites ever identified.
While most asteroids consist mostly of rocky rubble, pallasites like Psyche are enigmatic, composed mostly of iron and nickel with olivine crystals entrained in it. Scientists think they formed when planetesimals collided, stripping away outer material and leaving the inner metallic cores. The asteroid then cooled from the outside in.
Alloy - Pockets - Iron - Nickel - Elements
As it cooled, an alloy of residual melted pockets of iron, nickel and lighter elements like sulfur, might have erupted to the surface through fluid-filled cracks called dikes, creating virtual volcanoes of molten metal. That material would have created a coating...
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