NASA’s probe knows where it’s going, but it has no idea what it’s going to find.
That’s the crux of the challenge for Psyche, a spacecraft slated to blast off in 2022. Its target? An asteroid of the same name. Called "16 Psyche," it's one of the 1.1 million to 1.9 million large asteroids we know are in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. But information about 16 Psyche is scant. Scientists know it’s shaped like a potato, and the light that reflects off its surface suggests the asteroid is “unusually rich in metal,” according to a recent press release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
That makes it an attractive scientific target because it could be a relic of our solar system’s earliest days. The uncertainty is a huge challenge for the mission. Without much information about its density, mass, or spin, the mission team is depending on data from Psyche to plan its encounter with the asteroid.
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