(16) Psyche

16 Psyche 16 Psyche symbol.svg
Psyche asteroid eso crop.jpg
16 Psyche imaged by the Very Large Telescope's adaptive optics SPHERE imager in April 2018[1]
Discovered byAnnibale de Gasparis
Discovery date17 March 1852
(16) Psyche
Named after
Main belt
AdjectivesPsychean /sˈkən/[3]
Orbital characteristics[4]
Epoch JD 2453300.5 (22 October 2004)
Aphelion3.328 AU (497.884 Gm)
Perihelion2.513 AU (375.958 Gm)
2.921 AU (436.921 Gm)
4.99 yr (1823.115 d)
Physical characteristics
Dimensions(278±5 × 232±6 × 164±4) km[5]
[best ellipsoid fit = 277 km × 238 km × 168 km][5]
279 × 232 × 189 km ( ± 10% )[6]
Mean radius
111±2 km[5]
Volume5.8×106 km3 (best fit)[5]
Mass(2.41±0.32)×1019 kg[5]
Mean density
4.2±0.6 g/cm3[5]
~0.144 m/s2[7]
~180 m/s[6] (~600 ft/s)
4.195948±0.000001 h[6]
0.37±0.09 (radar)[6]
Spectral type
Tholen = M [4]
SMASS = X [4]
Bus-DeMeo = Xk [8]
9.22 to 12.19

16 Psyche (/ˈsk/) is a large asteroid discovered by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis, working in Naples, on 17 March 1852 and named after the Greek mythological figure Psyche.[9] It is one of the dozen most massive asteroids, containing about one percent of the mass of the asteroid belt, and is over 200 kilometres (120 mi) in diameter. Psyche is thought to be the exposed core of a protoplanet,[10] and is the most massive of the metal-rich M-type asteroids. Its composition and density match mesosiderite meteorites and it is likely their parent body. Psyche is scheduled for space exploration, targeted for January 2026. The prefix "16" signifies that it was the sixteenth minor planet in order of discovery.


Astronomers created icon-like symbols for the first fifteen asteroids to be discovered, as a type of shorthand notation consistent with older notation for the classical planets. Psyche was given an iconic symbol, as were a few other asteroids discovered after 16 Psyche. The symbol 16 Psyche, 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.[11]

However the iconic symbols for all asteroids were superseded and Psyche's symbol never came into use. With more than a dozen asteroids discovered, remembering all their individual emblems became increasingly unwieldy, and in 1851, German astronomer J.F. Encke suggested using a circled number instead: . The first new asteroid that was designated in 1852 using this new scheme was 16 Psyche, when American astronomer James Ferguson published his observations.[12]


Mass, size and shape[]

Psyche is massive enough that its gravitational perturbations on other asteroids can be observed, which enables a mass measurement. The values for the mass of (3.38±0.28)×10−11 M and the density of 6.98±0.58 g/cm3 obtained from a 2002 analysis by Kuzmanoski and Kovačević, of a close encounter with asteroid (13206) 1997 GC22.[13] The new, high density estimate suggests that 16 Psyche must be composed mostly of metals. As of 2019, the best mass estimate is (2.41±0.32)×1019 kg, with a derived bulk density of 3.99±0.26 g/cm3.[1]

The first size estimate of Psyche came from IRAS thermal infrared emission observations. They showed that it had a diameter of about 253 kilometres (157 mi),[4] although it was likely an overestimate as Psyche was viewed pole-on at that time.[6][14]

Light curve analysis indicates Psyche appears somewhat irregular in shape. There is a pronounced mass deficit near the equator at about 90° longitude comparable to Rheasilvia basin on 4 Vesta. There are also two additional smaller (50–70 km in diameter) crater-like depressions near the south pole. Psyche's north pole points towards the ecliptic coordinates β = 28°, λ = −6°, with a 4° uncertainty.[15][16] This gives an axial tilt of 95°.[6]

Lightcurve inversion model DAMIT 1806 and occultation chords from two observations of 2010 and 2014.

Observations of two multi-chord stellar occultations of 2010 and 2014[17] allow the matching of light curve inversions DAMIT model 1806[18] that give an equivalent-volume mean diameter of 216±12 km, and an equivalent surface mean diameter of 227±13 km. The density of Psyche derived from these estimates, 3.7±0.6 g/cm3, is consistent with that of other metallic asteroids.[15]


Multiple views of 16 Psyche imaged by the Very Large Telescope
Asteroid 16 Psyche, observed on November 02, 2020, as recorded by Raman Madhira from Ray's Astrophotography Observatory. An 11 inches RASA telescope plus a color CCD was used

Observations of Psyche with Very Large Telescope's adaptive optics SPHERE imager revealed two large craters, on the order of 90 km across, which were provisionally named Meroe /ˈmɛr/ and Panthia /ˈpænθiə/,[19][citation needed] after the twin witches in the Roman novel Metamorphoses by Apuleius.[1]

Composition and origin[]

The Bondoc meteorite, a stony-iron mesosiderite that may have come from 16 Psyche.

Observations indicate that Psyche has a metal-pyroxene composition, consistent with it having one of the brightest radar albedos in the asteroid belt (0.37±0.09).[6] Its density, 4.0±0.3 g/cm3, is compatible with mesosiderite meteorites (≈ 4.25 g/cm3) and the Steinbach meteorite (≈ 4.1 g/cm3).[1]

Psyche seems to have a surface that is 90% metallic and 10% silicate rock,[20][21] with 6±1% of orthopyroxene.[22][23] Scientists think that these metals may be mostly iron and nickel.[24]

The NASA Infrared Telescope Facility at the Mauna Kea Observatories reported evidence (~3 μm absorption feature) of hydroxyl ions on the asteroid in October 2016 that may suggest water ice. Since Psyche is thought to have formed under dry conditions without the presence of water, the hydroxyl may have reached Psyche via past impacts from smaller carbonaceous asteroids.[25][26][27][28]

The orbit of Psyche between Mars and Jupiter is near-circular

Psyche appears to be an exposed metallic core or a fragment of a metallic core[22] from a larger differentiated parent body some 500 kilometers in diameter. If Psyche is indeed one, there could be other asteroids on similar orbits. However, Psyche is not part of any identified asteroid family.[29] 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. However, this scenario is considered to have a probability of just 1%. An alternative is that Psyche was broken by impacts, but not catastrophically torn apart. In this case, it may be a candidate for the parent body of the mesosiderites, a class of stony–iron meteorites.[29]

Another possibility is that Psyche may be an endmember of diverse relic bodies left by the inner planet formation. The asteroid's mantle may have been stripped away not by a single collision but by multiple (more than three) relatively slow sideswipe collisions with bodies of comparable or larger size. What is left is a metallic core covered by a thin layer of silicates, which reveals itself spectrally. In such a case, Psyche would be analogous to Mercury but much less massive.[30]


Artist's concept of the Psyche spacecraft orbiting asteroid Psyche

No spacecraft has visited Psyche, but in 2014 a mission to Psyche was proposed to NASA.[31][32] A team led by Lindy Elkins-Tanton,[10] the director of the School for Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, presented a concept for a robotic Psyche orbiter. This team argued that 16 Psyche would be a valuable object for study because it is the only metallic core-like body discovered so far.[32]

The spacecraft would orbit Psyche for 20 months,[31] 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. On 30 September 2015, the Psyche orbiter mission was one of five Discovery Program semifinalist proposals.[33]

The mission was approved by NASA on 4 January 2017 and was originally targeted to launch in October 2023, with an Earth gravity assist maneuver in 2024, a Mars flyby in 2025, and arriving at the asteroid in 2030.[34] In May 2017, the launch date was moved up to target a more efficient trajectory, launching in 2022, with a Mars gravity assist in 2023 and arriving in 2026.[35]

On February 28, 2020, NASA awarded SpaceX a US$117 million contract to launch the Psyche spacecraft, and two smallsat secondary missions, on a Falcon Heavy rocket in July 2022.[36]

See also[]


  1. ^ a b c d Viikinkoski, M.; Vernazza, P.; Hanuš, J.; Le Coroller, H.; Tazhenova, K.; Carry, B.; et al. (6 November 2018). "(16) Psyche: A mesosiderite-like asteroid?" (PDF). Astronomy & Astrophysics. 619 (L3): L3. arXiv:1810.02771. Bibcode:2018DPS....5040408M. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201834091. S2CID 54075141.
  2. ^ Noah Webster (1884) A Practical Dictionary of the English Language
  3. ^ "psyche". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  4. ^ a b c d e "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: 16 Psyche" (2008-09-19 last obs). Retrieved 4 December 2008.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Ferrais et al. (2020) 'Asteroid (16) Psyche's primordial shape: A possible Jacobi ellipsoid?, Astronomy and Astrophysics 638, L15. https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/202038100
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Sheppard, Michael K.; Richardsonb, James; Taylor, Patrick A.; et al. (2017). "Radar observations and shape model of asteroid 16 Psyche". Icarus. 281: 388–403. Bibcode:2017Icar..281..388S. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2016.08.011.
  7. ^ Shepard et al. (2017) “Radar observations and shape model of asteroid 16 Psyche.” Icarus 281: 388-403. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2016.08.011
  8. ^ "EAR-A-5-DDR Taxonomy v 6.0". Planetary Data System. Archived from the original on 17 December 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  9. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2012). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (6th ed.). Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-3642297182.
  10. ^ a b Elkins-Tanton, L.T.; Asphaug, E.; Bell, J.; Bercovici, D.; Bills, B.G.; Binzel, Richard P.; et al. (March 2014). "Journey to a Metal World: Concept for a Discovery Mission to Psyche" (PDF). LPI Contribution No. 1777. 45th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. p. 1253. Bibcode:2014LPI....45.1253E. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Hilton, James (17 September 2001). "When did the asteroids become minor planets?". U.S. Naval Observatory. Archived from the original on 25 August 2009. Retrieved 3 April 2007.
  13. ^ Kuzmanoski, M.; Kovačević, A. (2002). "Motion of the asteroid (13206) 1997 GC22 and the mass of (16) Psyche" (PDF). Letters to the or. Astronomy & Astrophysics: L17–L19. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20021444. the first successful attempt based on a dynamical method
  14. ^ Lupishko, Dmitrij 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. S2CID 119643558.
  15. ^ a b Hanuš, J.; Viikinkoski, M.; Marchis, F.; Ďurech, J.; Kaasalainen, M.; Delbo', M.; Herald, D.; Frappa, E.; Hayamizu, T.; Kerr, S.; Preston, S.; Timerson, B.; Dunham, D.; Talbot, J. (2017). "Volumes and bulk densities of forty asteroids from ADAM shape modeling" (PDF). Astronomy & Astrophysics. 601 (A114): 1–41. arXiv:1702.01996. Bibcode:2017A&A...601A.114H. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201629956. S2CID 119432730.
  16. ^ Kaasalainen, M.; 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 February 2008. Retrieved 16 May 2006.
  17. ^ "Asteroid Data Sets". sbn.psi.edu. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  18. ^ "DAMIT 1806". astro.troja.cuni.cz. asteroid 3D data archive. Archived from the original on 26 May 2018. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  19. ^ John Zimmerman (1966) Dictionary of Classical Mythology
  20. ^ [Mission to a Metallic World: A Discovery Proposal to Fly to the Asteroid Psyche.] Future Planetary Exploration. 18 February 2014.
  21. ^ Callahan, Jason (30 March 2015). "Discovery lives". The Space Review. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  22. ^ a b Hardersen, Paul S.; Gaffey, Michael J. & Abell, Paul A. (2005). "Near-IR spectral evidence for the presence of iron-poor orthopyroxenes on the surfaces of six M-type asteroid". Icarus. 175 (1): 141. Bibcode:2005Icar..175..141H. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2004.10.017.
  23. ^ Sanchez, Juan; Reddy, Vishnu; Shepard, Michael K.; Thomas, Cristina; Cloutis, Edward (2016). Compositional characterization of asteroid (16) Psyche. AAS Division of Planetary Sciences meeting #48. Bibcode:2016DPS....4832520S.
  24. ^ 16 Psyche - Quick Facts. NASA. 16 May 2019.
  25. ^ Atkinson, Nancy. "Pure Metal Asteroid Has Mysterious Water Deposits". Universe Today. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  26. ^ Simpson, Julia. "Giant Metallic Asteroid Psyche May Have Water". Politicallore. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  27. ^ Jesse Emspak (27 October 2016). "Giant Metallic Asteroid Psyche May Have Water". space.com. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  28. ^ Takir, Driss; Reddy, Vishnu; Sanchez, Juan A.; Shepard, Michael K.; Emery, Joshua P. (2016). "Detection of water and/or hydroxil on asteroid (16) Psyche". The Astronomical Journal. 153 (1): 31. arXiv:1610.00802. Bibcode:2017AJ....153...31T. doi:10.3847/1538-3881/153/1/31. S2CID 118611420.
  29. ^ a b Davis, D.R.; Farinella, Paolo & Francesco, M. (1999). "The missing Psyche family: Collisionally eroded or never formed?". Icarus. 137 (1): 140. Bibcode:1999Icar..137..140D. doi:10.1006/icar.1998.6037.
  30. ^ Asphaug, E.; Reufer, A. (2014). "Mercury and other iron-rich planetary bodies as relics of inefficient accretion". Nature Geoscience. 7 (8): 564–568. Bibcode:2014NatGe...7..564A. doi:10.1038/NGEO2189.
  31. ^ a b Chang, Kenneth (6 January 2017). "A Metal Ball the Size of Massachusetts That NASA Wants to Explore". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Brown, Dwayne C.; Cantillo, Laurie (30 September 2015). "NASA selects investigations for future key planetary mission". NASA TV. NASA. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  34. ^ Northon, Karen (4 January 2017). "NASA Selects Two Missions to Explore the Early Solar System". NASA. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  35. ^ "NASA Moves Up Launch of Psyche Mission to a Metal Asteroid". NASA. 24 May 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  36. ^ Falcon Heavy to launch NASA Psyche asteroid mission, Jeff Foust, Space News, February 28, 2020

External links[]