Asteroids—named by British astronomer William Herschel from the Greek expression meaning “star-like"—are rocky, airless worlds that are too small to be called planets. But what they might lack in size they certainly make up for in number: An estimated 1.1 to 1.9 million asteroids larger than 1 kilometer are in the Main Belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. And there are millions more that are smaller in size. Asteroids range in size from Vesta—the largest at about 329 miles (529 kilometers) wide—to bodies that are just a few feet across.
2. What Lies Beneath
Asteroids are generally categorized into three types: carbon-rich, silicate, or metallic, or some combination of the three. Why the different types? It all comes down to how far from the sun they formed. Some experienced high temperatures and partly melted, with iron sinking to the center and volcanic lava forced to the surface. The asteroid Vesta is one example we know of today.
In 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the first and then-largest asteroid, Ceres, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is so large that it encompasses about one-fourth of the estimated total mass of all the asteroids in the asteroid belt. In 2006, its classification changed from asteroid to as a dwarf planet.
5. Mission to a Metal World
NASA’s Psyche mission will launch in 2022 to explore an all-metal asteroid—what could be the core of an early planet—for the very first time. And in October 2021, the Lucy mission will be the first to visit Jupiter’s swarms of Trojan asteroids.
6. Near-Earth Asteroids
The term ‘near’ in near-Earth asteroid is actually a misnomer; most of these bodies do not come close to Earth at all. By definition, a near-Earth asteroid is an asteroid that comes within 28 million miles (44 million km) of Earth’s orbit. As of June 19, 2017, there are 16,209 known near-Earth asteroids, with 1,803 classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (those that could someday pose a threat to Earth).
7. Comin’ in Hot
About once a year, a car-sized asteroid hits Earth’s atmosphere, creates an impressive fireball, and burns up before reaching the surface.
8. But We’re Keeping an Eye Out
Ground-based observatories and facilities such as Pan-STARRS, the Catalina Sky Survey, and ATLAS are constantly on the hunt to detect near-Earth asteroids. NASA also has a small infrared observatory in orbit about the Earth: NEOWISE. In addition to detecting asteroids and comets, NEOWISE also characterizes these small bodies.
9. Buddy System
Roughly one-sixth of the asteroid population have a small companion moon (some even have two moons). The first discovery of an asteroid-moon system was of asteroid Ida and its moon Dactyl in 1993.
10. Earthly Visitors
Several NASA space missions have flown to and observed asteroids. The NEAR Shoemaker mission landed on asteroid Eros in 2001 and NASA’s Dawn mission was the first mission to orbit an asteroid in 2011. In 2005, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa landed on asteroid Itokawa. Currently, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is en route to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu; it will bring a small sample back to Earth for study.
Our Psyche mission to a metal world, which will explore a giant metal asteroid known as 16 Psyche, is getting a new, earlier launch date. Psyche is now expected to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in 2022, cruise through the solar system for 4.6 years, and arrive at the Psyche asteroid in 2026, four years earlier than planned.
Below are 10 things to know about this mission to a completely new and unexplored type of world.
1. Psyche, Squared
Psyche is the name of the NASA space mission and the name of the unique metal asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid was discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis and named after the Greek mythological figure Psyche, whom Cupid fell in love with. “Psyche” in Greek also means “soul.”
2. Mission: Accepted
The Psyche Mission was selected for flight earlier this year under NASA’s Discovery Program. And it will take a village to pull off: The spacecraft is being built by Space Systems Loral in Palo Alto, California; the mission is led by Arizona State University; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be responsible for mission management, operations and navigation.
3. An Unusual Asteroid
For the very first time, this mission will let us examine a world made not of rock and ice, but metal. Scientists think Psyche is comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel, similar to Earth’s core - which means Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet as large as Mars.
4. Sweet 16
Psyche the asteroid is officially known as 16 Psyche, since it was the 16th asteroid to be discovered. It lies within the asteroid belt, is irregularly shaped, about the size of Massachusetts, and is about three times farther away from the sun than Earth.
5. Discoveries Abound
The Psyche mission will observe the asteroid for 20 months. Scientists hope to discover whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to Earth’s core, and what its surface is like. The mission will also help scientists understand how planets and other bodies separated into their layers including cores, mantles and crusts early in their histories. “Psyche is the only known object of its kind in the solar system and this is the only way humans will ever visit a core,” said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University.
6. Think Fast
The mission launch and arrival were moved up because Psyche’s mission design team were able to plot a more efficient trajectory that no longer calls for an Earth gravity assist, ultimately shortening the cruise time. The new trajectory also stays farther from the sun, reducing the amount of heat protection needed for the spacecraft, and will still include a Mars flyby in 2023.
7. Gadgets Galore
The Psyche spacecraft will be decked out with a multispectral imager, gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, magnetometer, and X-band gravity science investigation. More: https://sese.asu.edu/research/psyche
8. Stunning Solar Panels
In order to support the new mission trajectory, the solar array system was redesigned from a four-panel array in a straight row on either side of the spacecraft to a more powerful five-panel x-shaped design, commonly used for missions requiring more capability. Much like a sports car, combining a relatively small spacecraft body with a very high-power solar array design means the Psyche spacecraft will be able to speed to its destination much faster. Check out this artist’s-concept illustration here: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/artists-concept-of-psyche-spacecraft-with-five-panel-array
9. See For Yourself
Watch the planned Psyche mission in action.
10. Even More Asteroids
Our missions to asteroids began with the orbiter NEAR of asteroid Eros, which arrived in 2000, and continues with Dawn, which orbited Vesta and is now in an extended mission at Ceres. The mission OSIRIS-REx, which launched on Sept. 8, 2016, is speeding toward a 2018 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu, and will deliver a sample back to Earth in 2023. The Lucy mission is scheduled to launch in October 2021 and will explore six Jupiter Trojan asteroids. More: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=6713
Want to learn more? Read our full list of the 10 things to know this week about the solar system HERE.
The story begins with a person who is an orphan; or someone who feels like an orphan, alone, separate, different, and misunderstood. This character has questions about their circumstance (for example:”Why did my parents die?”, “Why doesn’t anyone like me?”, Why am I always in trouble?”, “What will I do with my life?”, etc.). These questions set off the journey.
Psyche in Aries Those with Psyche in Aries are energetic and highly independent. They need someone who can not only keep up with them, but not tie them down. They may be their own soulmate, it is possible with them since they may not like the idea of belonging to someone specifically.
Psyche in Taurus Those with Psyche in Taurus value those who are genuine, hard working and stable in every aspect of life. They’re sensual and patient and may take longer to commit than most Psyche signs. They need to have someone in their lives that are reliable and strong.
Psyche in Gemini Those who have their Psyche in Gemini are intelligent and adaptable. They would prefer someone who lets them be free to socialize and wander off. They want someone whom they can share their ideas with and have them be accepting of it.
Psyche in Cancer Those with Psyche in Cancer are caring and providing people. They need someone who will make them feel protected, loved and cared for. Psyche in Cancer may want their soulmate to provide security in their relationship and to love them unconditionally. Through sickness and health.
Psyche in Leo Those with Psyche in Leo have huge hearts and are romantics. They need a partner who will adore them and love them for who they are flaws and all. Psyche in Leo can put their soulmate on a pedestal and they expect it back.
Psyche in Virgo Those who have their Psyche in Virgo are patient and may have a tendency to nit-pick a lot. They need a partner who will give them their alone time when needed, but still assure them that they’ll be there to love and support the Psyche in Virgo.
Psyche in Libra Those with Psyche in Libra are charming and socially refined. They need a partner who is beautiful both inside and out and can be with the Psyche in Libra all the time. They don’t like feeling lonely so being with an intelligent, comforting and gentle partner is best for them.
Psyche in Scorpio Those with Psyche in Scorpio are provocative and mysterious. Their ideal soulmate is someone who they can spend their entire life with and trust them so deeply with any and every little secret. They need someone who is lustful and also powerful, but gentle and protective of their loved one.
Psyche in Sagittarius Those with Psyche in Sagittarius are freedom loving and passionate. They need someone who is not afraid to try anything once and can keep an open mind with pursuing other people. Non-monogamy may be ideal for them as they refuse to be tied down and become nothing but a possession.
Psyche in Capricorn Those with Psyche in Capricorn are practical and down to earth. They need a partner who may be powerful in status and ambitious and hard working as well. They need someone who is wise and far from childish.
Psyche in Aquarius Those who have their Psyche in Aquarius are independent and may feel as though no one is worth their love. Psyche in Aquarius needs someone who can be their best friend as well as their lover. Mutual respect and support is best. A soulmate who respects their personal space and lets the Psyche in Aquarius freely express themselves is ideal.
Psyche in Pisces Those with their Psyche in Pisces are compassionate and intuitive. They need someone who will love them unconditionally and continue to stay with them through the good and the bad. A partner who is willing to suffer with them is ideal.