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NASA spacecraft begins 6-year journey to mysterious metal asteroid

NASA launched its Psyche mission toward a rare, metallic asteroid of the same name orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.
NASA spacecraft begins 6-year journey to mysterious metal asteroid
Posted at 7:58 PM, Oct 13, 2023

NASA spacecraft has set out on its six-year journey to a rare metal-covered asteroid.

The Psyche mission aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center Friday morning toward the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. 

Just over an hour after the launch, the Psyche spacecraft separated from SpaceX's largest operational rocket, setting off into the darkness and sending its first signal back to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory facility about five minutes later.

The spacecraft will reach the "unique metal-rich asteroid" — also named Psyche — by August 2029, NASA said.

This is the agency's first mission to study an asteroid that has more metal than rock or ice. And due its high metal content, scientists believe the Psyche asteroid could be the partial core of a planetesimal, which is a building block of an early planet.

The potato-shaped object is the biggest of the nine or so metallic asteroids NASA has discovered, measuring about 173 miles across at its widest point and 144 miles long with a surface area of 64,000 square miles.

SEE MORE: Asteroid sample contains water, carbon, NASA says

It was the 16th asteroid to be discovered when it was found in 1852, named after the Greek goddess of the soul.

Scientists believe getting a closer look now could explain more about Earth's core and how other rocky or terrestrial planets came to be, NASA said.

But they could be proven wrong, as they don't exactly know until they can see it close up.

Once Psyche reaches the Psyche asteroid, orbiting the Sun about three times farther away than Earth, the spacecraft will spend about two years in its orbit, taking pictures and mapping its surface while collecting data about its composition. 

The spacecraft will send images to Earth as soon as it spots the gray rock, which scientists believe is brimming with iron, nickel and silicate. Earth's core is made of iron and nickel.

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