Asteroid Psyche may be part of a planet that never formed

New 2D and 3D computer simulations of collisions with Psyche, the largest asteroid in the Main Belt, indicate that it is likely metallic and porous in composition. This knowledge will be critical to NASA’s upcoming asteroid mission, which kicks off in 2022 – Psyche: Journey to a Metal World.

This mission will be the first to visit a metal asteroid, and the more the scientific community knows about it before launch, the more likely the mission will have the most appropriate tools for asteroid exploration and data collection.

Psyche is an interesting body to study. In the new study, scientists suggest that this is the remnant of the planetary core, which was destroyed during the accretion stage, that is, the planet simply did not have time to form. Scientists can learn a lot about planetary formation by researching Psyche.

Modeling impact structures on Psyche contributes to the understanding of metal bodies, as well as the differences in crater processes on large metal objects and on rocky and icy bodies.

The team provides the first 3D models of the formation of Psyche’s largest impact crater, and this is the first work to use impact crater models to determine the composition of asteroids. The 2D and 3D models show an oblique collision angle at which an approaching object would hit the asteroid’s surface, deforming it in a very specific and predictable way given the likely materials.

Metals deform differently than other common asteroid materials such as silicates, and impacts on targets similar in composition to Psyche should result in craters similar to those seen on the asteroid.

An animated video using the team’s simulation results shows a theoretical impact scenario that could lead to Psyche’s largest crater. The simulation shows how some of the material is ejected into space after impact and reveals the stage of crater modification, where the formed damaged material is visible in the impact zone.