This article was originally published on Conversation. The post contributed the article to Space.com Expert Voices: Editorial and Insights.
French novelist Jules Verne delighted 19th-century readers with the tantalizing notion that a journey to the center of the Earth was actually possible.
Since then, scientists have long recognized this Verne’s Literary Journey It was just science fiction. The extreme temperatures of Earth’s interior – about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,537 degrees Celsius) in the core – and the accompanying crushing pressure, which is millions of times greater than the pressure at the surface, Prevent people from venturing down too far.
However, there are some things Known from the bottom of the earth. For example, geophysicists have discovered that the core consists of a solid ball of iron and nickel that makes up 20% of the radius of the Earth, surrounded by a crust of molten iron and nickel that extends over an additional 15% of the radius of the Earth.
We learned this, and the rest of our knowledge about the interior of our world, indirectly – either by studying the Earth’s magnetic field or the way earthquake waves move. Bounce from different layers Underground.
Related: NASA’s Psyche mission to the metallic asteroid is undergoing vital tests in preparation for its launch in October
But indirect detection has its limitations. How can scientists learn more about our planet’s deep interior?
Planetary scientists like me I think the best way to learn about the inner Earth is in outer space. NASA Robotic mission to a metal world Its launch is scheduled for October 5, 2023. This mission, the spacecraft that travels there, and the world it will explore have the same name – Psyche. And for six years now, I have been Part of NASA’s Psyche Team.
About Psycho Asteroid
Asteroids are small worldsSome are the size of small cities, others are the size of small countries. They are the remaining building blocks from the early and violent period of our solar system. Planet formation time.
Although most asteroids are rocky, icy, or a combination of both, 20% of asteroids are worlds made of metal, similar in composition to Earth’s core. So it’s tempting to imagine that these metallic asteroids are pieces of once-existing planetary cores, torn apart by ancient cosmic collisions with one another. Perhaps, by studying these pieces, scientists can learn directly what the planet’s core looks like.
Psyche is the largest known metallic asteroid. Discovered in 1852, Psyche is about the width of Massachusetts, is a compact spheroid reminiscent of a pincushion, and orbits between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt. An amateur astronomer can see Psyche with a backyard telescope, but she only appears as a tiny point of light.
about the task of the psyche
And in early 2017, NASA approved $1 billion task to self. To do its job, the unmanned spacecraft doesn’t need to land — instead, it will loop around the asteroid repeatedly and methodically, starting at a distance of 435 miles (700 kilometers) and then descending to a height of 46 miles (75 kilometers) from the surface. And maybe less.
Once it arrives in August 2029, the probe will spend 26 months mapping the asteroid’s geology, terrain and gravity. It will look for evidence of a magnetic field. It will compare the asteroid’s composition to what scientists know, or think we know, about Earth’s core.
The central questions are: Is Psyche really an exposed planetary core? Is the asteroid a big rocky boulder, a rubble pile of smaller rocks, or something else entirely? Is there evidence that the former outer layers of this small world – the crust and mantle – were violently stripped away long ago? And perhaps the most important question: Can what we’ve learned about Psyche be extrapolated to solve some mysteries about the Earth’s core?
About the Psyche spacecraft
The probe’s body is about the same size and mass as a large SUV. Solar panels, which stretch a little wider than a tennis court, power cameras, spectrophotometers and other systems.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will lift Psyche from Earth. The rest of the way, self will Reliance on ion propulsion The gentle pressure generated by the jet of ionized xenon gas from the crater provides a continuous, reliable, and low-cost method for propelling spacecraft into the solar system.
The trip is a slow, 2.5-billion-mile (4 billion km) spiral that includes a gravity-assisted flyby of Mars. It will take approximately six years. Throughout the journey, the Psyche team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and here at Arizona State University in Tempe, will stay in regular contact with the spacecraft. Our team will send and receive data using NASA’s Deep Space Network Giant radio antennas.
Even if we know that Psyche is not an ancient planetary core, we are bound to add significantly to our body of knowledge about the solar system and the way the planets formed. After all, Psyche was still unlike any world humans had ever visited. We may not yet be able to travel to the center of the Earth, but robotic avatars to places like Psyche could help unravel the mysteries hidden in the depths of planets – including our own.
This article was first published by Conversation.