In tribute to small children and easily distracted people everywhere, NASA will go out of its way to check out a shiny object.
Squirrel! Or maybe Rudolph.
A small asteroid named Psyche appears much brighter than other known asteroids, and NASA/astronomers believe it may be composed mostly of metal. Some are conjecturing that Psyche may be the inner core of a small planetary body stripped down by various celestial forces, and they think that a closer look at the asteroid may teach us a great deal about the inner core of our very own Earth.
Psyche is a Massachusetts-sized, mostly spherical body hanging out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where NASA has already managed some wildly successful investigations (the Dawn Treader…er, Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres). Ceres itself handed them some surprises, most notably with the curious shiny patches on its surface that didn’t appear to correlate with anything known of planetary surfaces.
Let’s just declare the asteroid belt a cool place, m’kay? Because it is.
The mission was proposed and discussed back in 2015, and NASA selected it for further review and refining. The final decision on when the mission would proceed was announced this year. Looks like the Psyche mission is one of five exploratory ventures that NASA’s JPL will conduct from 2020-2030, in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU) and Space Systems Loral.
The mission director, Dr. Lindy Elkins-Taunton (ASU), has led several other successful NASA explorations of the solar system. Check out an interview with her here.
Fingers crossed that they maintain the budget needed for this exploration.