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What Scientists Expected of Asteroid 16 Psyche May not be True

Asteroid 16 Psyche, a well-studied metallic asteroid, was long assumed to represent the exposed iron core of a small planet that failed to form during the solar system’s early days. However, a recent study done by the University of Arizona reveals that the asteroid may not be as metallic or dense as previously thought and tells a very different birth narrative.

Scientists are interested in Asteroid 16 Psyche because it will allow them to investigate an exposed planetary core up close if its origins are correct. NASA’s Psyche mission would be set to launch in 2022 and arrive at the asteroid in 2026. David Cantillo, an Arizona undergraduate student, is the principal author of new research published on The Planetary Science Journal that claims 16 Psyche is 82.5 percent metal, 7% low-iron pyroxene, and 10.5 percent carbonaceous chondrite delivered by asteroids.

16 Psyche’s bulk density—also known as porosity, which refers to how much space is found within its body—is estimated to be around 35 percent by Cantillo and his coworkers. These figures differ from previous predictions of 16 Psyche’s composition, which suggested it may contain up to 95 percent metal and be substantially denser.

Cantillo said, “That drop in metallic content and bulk density is interesting because it shows that Asteroid 16 Psyche is more modified than previously thought.” Rather than being an entire exposed core of an early planet, it may be more like a rubble pile akin to another well-studied asteroid, Bennu. The science mission team for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which retrieved a sample from Bennu’s surface and is now making its journey back to Earth, is led by the University of Arizona.

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