One of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt, 16 Psyche is a giant metal asteroid, about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth. Its average diameter is about 140 miles (226 kilometers) — about one-sixteenth the diameter of Earth’s Moon or about the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego. Unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, scientists think the M-type (metallic) asteroid 16 Psyche is comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel similar to Earth’s core. Scientists wonder whether Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet, maybe as large as Mars, that lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.
Astronomers on Earth have studied 16 Psyche in visible and infrared wavelengths, as well as radar, which suggest Psyche is shaped somewhat like a potato. Observations indicate that its dimensions are 173 miles by 144 miles, by 117 miles (that’s 279, 232 and 189 kilometers, respectively). Psyche orbits the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter at a distance ranging from 235 million to 309 million miles (378 million to 497 million kilometers) from the Sun. That’s 2.5 to 3.3 Astronomical Units (AU), with 1 AU being the distance between Earth and the Sun. Psyche takes about five Earth years to complete one orbit of the Sun, but only a bit over four hours to rotate once on its axis (a Psyche “day”).
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