Selections from 2020: Hubble Observations of Psyche

Editor’s note: In these last two weeks of 2020, we’ll be looking at a few selections that we haven’t yet discussed on AAS Nova from among the most-downloaded papers published in AAS journals this year. The usual posting schedule will resume in January.

HST UV Observations of Asteroid (16) Psyche

Published October 2020

Main takeaway:

A study led by Tracy Becker (Southwest Research Institute) presents new ultraviolet images of the large asteroid (16) Psyche captured with the Hubble Space Telescope. These images reveal potential weathering of the asteroid’s metallic surface by the solar wind.

Why it’s interesting:

At more than 200 km in diameter, Psyche is one of the largest asteroids known in our solar system; it’s thought to be the exposed core of a failed protoplanet. One of this body’s most unusual properties is its apparent composition: its surface appears to be predominantly composed of metals like iron and nickel. The new ultraviolet observations of Psyche’s surface may help us to better understand its composition and how this asteroid holds up under the physical processes of our solar system, like bombardment by the solar wind.


Illustration of a spacecraft orbiting the asteroid Psyche. [NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin]

Why these observations are timely:

We’re going to Psyche! NASA will launch a spacecraft in 2022 that will arrive at Psyche in 2026. This mission’s goal is to spend nearly 2 years orbiting the asteroid and observing its topography, surface features, gravity, magnetism, and other characteristics to better understand the properties and origins of planetary cores. Carefully examining Psyche now will help us to get more out of this future mission.


Tracy M. Becker et al 2020 Planet. Sci. J. 1 53. doi:10.3847/PSJ/abb67e