Oct 13, 2023 - Science

NASA launches Psyche mission to study a strange metallic asteroid

The Falcon Heavy rocket carrying Psyche launches. Photo: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

A NASA mission launched on its journey to explore an odd metallic asteroid on Friday morning.

Why it matters: Scientists think that the asteroid Psyche might be a fragment of a metallic core of a long-dead protoplanet that formed early in the solar system's history.

  • By studying it from close range, researchers hope to learn more about what happened in our solar system billions of years ago, setting the stage for how it evolved into what we see today.

Driving the news: The Psyche mission launched on its journey to the asteroid Psyche at 10:19am ET aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on Friday.

  • The spacecraft will now spend years in transit, eventually arriving at Psyche in 2029.
  • Once there, the spacecraft is expected to study the asteroid from orbit for about two years.
  • "Scientists believe Psyche could be part of the core of a planetesimal — an early planetary building block — and composed of a mixture of rock and iron-nickel metal," NASA wrote in a press release. "The metal will not be mined; it will be studied to give researchers a better idea of what makes up Earth's core and how rocky planets formed in our solar system."

The big picture: Studying Psyche could also help scientists learn more about what lurks in the core of our Earth.

  • "Humans can't bore a path to our planet's core — or the cores of the other rocky planets — so visiting Psyche could provide a one-of-a-kind window into the violent history of collisions and accumulation of matter that created planets like our own," NASA wrote.
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