16 Psyche

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16 Psyche 16 Psyche symbol.svg
16Psyche (Lightcurve Inversion).png
A three-dimensional model of 16 Psyche based on its light curve.
Discovered by Annibale de Gasparis
Discovery date March 17, 1852
Pronunciation /ˈsk/ SY-kee
Named after
Main belt
Orbital characteristics[1]
Epoch October 22, 2004 (JD 2453300.5)
Aphelion 3.328 AU (497.884 Gm)
Perihelion 2.513 AU (375.958 Gm)
2.921 AU (436.921 Gm)
Eccentricity 0.140
4.99 yr (1823.115 d)
17.34 km/s
Inclination 3.095°
Physical characteristics
Dimensions 240×185×145 km[2]
186 km (Geometric mean)
253.2 ± 4 km (IRAS)[1]
Mass 2.27×1019 kg[2]
Mean density

6.73 ± 3.05 g/cm³[2]

3.3 ± 0.7 g/cm³[3]
~0.06 m/s²[citation needed]
~0.13 km/s[citation needed]
0.1748 d (4.196 h)[1][4]
Albedo 0.120 (geometric)[1]
Temperature ~160 K
max: ~280 K (+7 °C)[citation needed]
Spectral type
9.22 to 12.19

16 Psyche is one of the ten most-massive asteroids in the asteroid belt. It is over 200 kilometers in diameter and contains a little less than 1% of the mass of the entire asteroid belt and it is thought to be the exposed iron core of a protoplanet.[5] It is the most massive metallic M-type asteroid. Psyche was discovered by Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852 from Naples and named after the Greek mythological figure Psyche.


The first fifteen asteroids to be discovered were given symbols by astronomers as a type of shorthand notation. In 1851, however, J. F. Encke suggested using a circled number, and 16 Psyche was the first new asteroid to be discovered that was designated with this scheme (in 1852 by J. Ferguson).[6] However, Psyche was given an iconic symbol as well, as were a few other asteroids discovered over the next few years. This symbol, a semicircle topped by a star, represents a butterfly's wing, symbol of the soul (psyche is the Greek word for 'soul'), and a star.[7]


Radar observations indicate that Psyche has a fairly pure ironnickel composition.[8][9] Unlike some other M-type asteroids, Psyche shows no sign of the presence of water or water-bearing minerals on its surface, consistent with its interpretation as a metallic body.[10] Psyche seems to have a surface that is 90% metallic (iron),[11] with small amounts of pyroxene.[12]

Psyche thus appears to be an exposed metallic core from a larger differentiated parent body. If Psyche is indeed the core remnant of a larger, now destroyed, parent body, we might expect to find other asteroids on similar orbits. However, Psyche does not belong to any asteroid family.[13] One hypothesis is that the collision that formed Psyche occurred very early in the Solar System's history, and all the other remnants have since been ground into fragments by subsequent collisions or had their orbits perturbed beyond recognition.

Psyche is massive enough that its perturbations on other asteroids can be measured, which enables a mass measurement. IRAS data shows it to have a diameter of 253 km.[1] Observations of an occultation using five chords suggest an outline of 214×181 km.[14] Recent estimates of Psyche's smaller size has resulted in an increase in its estimated density to one that is more appropriate for a metallic asteroid.[2][3] Psyche appears to have a fairly regular surface and is approximately ellipsoidal in shape. Recent lightcurve analysis indicates that its pole points towards either ecliptic coordinates (β, λ) = (−9°, 35°) or (β, λ) = (−2°, 215°) with a 10° uncertainty.[15] This gives an axial tilt of 95°.

Two stellar occultations by Psyche have been observed (from Mexico on March 22, 2002, and another on May 16, 2002). Lightcurve variations indicate a non-spherical body, consistent with the lightcurve and radar results.

It is possible that at least some examples of enstatite chondrite meteorites originated from this asteroid, based on similar spectral analysis results.


No spacecraft has yet visited Psyche.[16] A proposal for an unmanned Psyche orbiter has been made by a team led by Lindy Elkins-Tanton, [5] the director of the School for Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. This team argues that Psyche would be a valuable object for study because it is the only metallic core-like body discovered so far.[16] The proposed spacecraft would orbit Psyche for six months, studying its topography, surface features, gravity, magnetism, and other characteristics and would be based on current technology, avoiding high cost and the necessity to develop new technologies. The team, who have been working on their plan for about one and a half years, plan to submit it in 2015[dated info] as a proposal for NASA's Discovery Program, which invites proposals for low-budget robotic space exploration missions.[17][18]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: 16 Psyche" (2008-09-19 last obs). Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d Jim Baer (2011). "Recent Asteroid Mass Determinations". Personal Website. Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  3. ^ a b Lupishko, D. F. (2006). "On the bulk density and porosity of M-type asteroid 16 Psyche". Solar System Research 40 (3): 214–218. Bibcode:2006SoSyR..40..214L. doi:10.1134/S0038094606030051. 
  4. ^ PDS lightcurve data Archived 17 January 2010 at WebCite
  5. ^ a b JOURNEY TO A METAL WORLD: CONCEPT FOR A DISCOVERY MISSION TO PSYCHE. (PDF) 45th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2014)
  6. ^ Hilton, J. (2001-09-17). "When Did the Asteroids Become Minor Planets?". U.S. Naval Observatory. Archived from the original on 2010-01-18. Retrieved 2007-04-03. 
  7. ^ Sonntag, A. (1852). "Elemente und Ephemeride der Psyche". Astronomische Nachrichten 34 (20): 283. Bibcode:1852AN.....34..283.. doi:10.1002/asna.18520342010. (in a footnote) Herr Professor de Gasparis schreibt mir, in Bezug auf den von ihm März 17 entdeckten neuen Planeten: "J'ai proposé, avec l'approbation de Mr. Hind, le nom de Psyché pour la nouvelle planète, ayant pour symbole une aile de papillon surmontée d'une étoile." 
  8. ^ S.J. Ostro (1985). "Radar observations of asteroids and comets". Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Publications 97: 877. Bibcode:1985PASP...97..877O. doi:10.1086/131619. 
  9. ^ C. Magri et al. (1999). "Mainbelt Asteroids: Results of Arecibo and Goldstone Radar Observations of 37 Objects during 1980–1995". Icarus 140 (2): 379. Bibcode:1999Icar..140..379M. doi:10.1006/icar.1999.6130. 
  10. ^ E. Merényi et al. (1997). "Prediction of Water in Asteroids from Spectral Data Shortward of 3 µm". Icarus 129 (2): 421. Bibcode:1997Icar..129..421M. doi:10.1006/icar.1997.5796. 
  11. ^ Discovery lives. Jason Callahan, March 30, 2015.
  12. ^ P.S. Hardersen; M.J. Gaffey & P.A. Abell (2005). "Near-IR spectral evidence for the presence of iron-poor orthopyroxenes on the surfaces of six M-type asteroids". Icarus 175 (1): 141. Bibcode:2005Icar..175..141H. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2004.10.017. 
  13. ^ D.R. Davis; P. Farinella & M. Francesco (1999). "The Missing Psyche Family: Collisionally Eroded or Never Formed?". Icarus 137 (1): 140. Bibcode:1999Icar..137..140D. doi:10.1006/icar.1998.6037. 
  14. ^ "Occultation of TYC 5783-01228-1 by (16) Psyche 2004 May 16". Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. Archived from the original on 21 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
  15. ^ M. Kaasalainen et al. (2002). "Models of Twenty Asteroids from Photometric Data" (PDF). Icarus 159 (2): 369. Bibcode:2002Icar..159..369K. doi:10.1006/icar.2002.6907. Retrieved 16 May 2006. 
  16. ^ a b Wall, Mike (15 January 2014). "Strange Metal Asteroid Targeted in Far-Out NASA Mission Concept". Space.com. TechMedia Network. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "MESSENGER Science Team". Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  18. ^ Kane, Van (19 February 2014). "Mission to a Metallic World: A Discovery Proposal to Fly to the Asteroid Psyche". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 2014-10-15. 

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