SPACE — The American Space Agency’s (NASA) Psyche spacecraft finally sent its first data on December 4. Since launching atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on October 13, Psyche has been traveling the cosmos in the dark.
Since the day of its launch, scientists have not turned on the solar-winged aircraft’s cameras. Currently, Psyche is on its way to study the asteroid named, 16 Psyche. Asteroid 16 Psyche is said to have a potential economic value of up to 10 quadrillion US dollars.
The asteroid is located between the planets Mars and Jupiter. These space rocks are of particular interest to planetary researchers because they are believed to be made almost entirely of metal, specifically iron and nickel.
These metals are specific metals found in the earth’s core. That is, 16 Psyche offers us an indirect method of analyzing the center of the Earth. This is something scientists cannot do directly.
On December 5, the mission team announced that the spacecraft first took its first photos of space. The data transmitted is a mosaic of raw data collected by the aircraft on December 4.
The data shows the distribution of stars as seen from Psyche’s point of view. Within a few days, the team will process the data so that it can produce meaning.
This image is called Psyche’s “first light.” The portrait actually consists of a total of 68 separate images, all of which encapsulate objects in the constellation Pisces. That’s coincidentally where the camera from Psyche’s ship was pointing when it was turned on.
The brightest star seen is called “mu Pisces” with a magnitude of 4.9 and the other stars seen have a magnitude between 7 and 9.
“These initial images are just a curtain raiser,” said Jim Bell of Arizona State University Space.
The team will use star images like these to test how the Psyche imager functions. In 2026, this spacecraft will fly by Mars and is expected to capture some stunning views of the Red Planet.
The aircraft is targeted to be able to get the most interesting images of the asteroid Psyche by 2029.
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