Take Two

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Take Two

It’s “take two” for a mission to a heavy-metal asteroid. The billion-dollar mission was supposed to launch in September of last year. But software problems forced NASA to cancel that attempt. The new launch window opens on Thursday, and continues through October 25th. If the craft gets off as planned, it’ll reach its target in 2029.

Psyche will orbit an asteroid of the same name. Most asteroids are made mostly of rock. But Psyche consists mainly of metals — primarily iron and nickel. It’s the largest metallic asteroid yet discovered — about 140 miles in diameter.

Most of the millions of asteroids that orbit the Sun probably are debris left over from the formation of the planets. But Psyche could be the remains of a much-larger body — something that was bigger than most asteroids, but not as big as a planet.

The original body could have been massive enough to form distinct layers. Iron and nickel fell to the middle, as they did in our own planet. So taking a look at Psyche could be like peeking into the heart of Earth.

We’ll get that peek because Psyche somehow lost its outer layers — perhaps in collisions with other asteroids. Only its core remained.

Psyche is about three times farther from the Sun than Earth is. The launch delay extended the travel time of Psyche the spacecraft. It’ll have to swing past Mars to get a gravitational “kick” — boosting it toward a heavy ball of metal in the asteroid belt.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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