Exploration of Asteroid Psyche

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NASA has provided funding for the exploration of the asteroid Psyche, located in the asteroid belt 280 million miles from the sun. Psyche is 140 miles in diameter, and is actually thought to be the core of a failed planet. The space scientists exploring the asteroid will be led by researchers at Arizona State University, who will start by printing a 3-D model of what Psyche might look like. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal investigator of the Psyche mission and the director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, will tell us more about the mission.

TED SIMONS: RESEARCHERS AT ASU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN BY NASA TO EXPLORE "PSYCHE," A DISTANT ASTEROID THAT'S MADE OF METAL AND COULD BE THE CORE-REMNANT OF A FAILED PLANET. LINDY ELKINS TANTON IS THE PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR OF THE PSYCHE MISSION AND THE DIRECTOR OF ASU'S SCHOOL OF EARTH AND SPACE EXPLORATION. WELCOME TO ARIZONA "HORIZON." GOOD TO HAVE YOU.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: THANK YOU SO MUCH. THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.
TED SIMONS: THIS ASTEROID IS HOW FAR AWAY?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: THREE TIMES FURTHER THAN THE SUN THAN EARTH BETWEEN MARS AND JUPITER.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: IT WAS DISCOVERED IN 1852 BY AN ASTRONOMER IN NAPLES, ITALY.
TED SIMONS: HOW BIG IS IT?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: IT IS ABOUT THE SIZE OF MASSACHUSETTS. IF YOU DROPPED IT ON ARIZONA IT WOULD GO FROM PHOENIX TO FLAGSTAFF.
TED SIMONS: IT HAS TO BE BIG THERE IS A MISSION TO GO THERE AND CHECK IT OUT.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: THERE HAS TO BE A REASON TO GO.
TED SIMONS: WHAT IS THE REASON?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: IT IS ONLY PIECE OF METAL OUT THERE. BEFORE IT WENT TO MARS…OTHER PLACES. IT GOT BROKEN INTO PIECES UNTIL ONLY ITS METAL CORE WAS LEFT. PSYCHE IS A UNIQUE OBJECT IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM AND WE THINK IT WILL TEACH US WHAT IS INSIDE OUR PLANTS TODAY AND WHAT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST MINUTES OF OUR SOLAR SYSTEM.
TED SIMONS: THE METAL CORE SOUNDS SIMILAR TO THE EARTH.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: THIS IS THE FIRST THING THAT HAPPENS TO PLANETS…THE METAL MELTS AND BECOMES A CORE AND THERE IS ROCK ON THE OUTSIDE. WE CAN NEVER VISIT THE EARTH'S CORE SO THIS IS THE ONLY CORE HUMANS WILL EVER SEE.
TED SIMONS: THE MISSION INVOLVING PSYCHE; WHEN DOES IT GET STARTED?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: WE ARE SCHEDULED TO LAUNCH IN 2023. WE STARTED WORKING ON THE REPOSAL FIVE YEARS AGO AND WERE JUST SELECTED BY NASA IN JANUARY.
TED SIMONS: TALK ABOUT NASA CHOOSING YOU GUYS OVER THOSE GUYS.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: IT WAS A BIG DEAL. WE HAD TO GO THROUGH TWO PROPOSALS IT WAS CALLED THE DISCOVERY MISSION AND WE WERE ONE OF THE FIVE SELECTS. AND THEN TO GET THE CALL EARLY IN THE MORNING ON JANUARY 4TH SAYING WE HAVE BEEN SELECTED. IT WAS THE THRILL OF A LIFETIME.
TED SIMONS: IT IS A THRILL, PRIVILEGE AND MEANS TIME TO GET TO WORK, DOESN'T IT?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: YEAH.
TED SIMONS: AMONG THE THINGS YOU HAVE DONE, YOU HAVE VIDEO OF THIS. THIS IDEA OF A 3D PRINTER PRINTING OUT LIKE A BASKETBALL SIZE VERSION OF THIS THING?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: THE RADAR TELESCOPE CAN ACTUALLY PING RADAR OFF PSYCHE AND GET AN IDEA OF WHAT ITS SHAPE IS. THE BASIC SHAPE IS CORRECT AND ALL THE DETAILS ON THE SURFACE ARE OUR GUESS' ABOUT THE SCIENCE.
TED SIMONS: WE ARE LOOKING AT THE VIDEO OF WHAT NASA THINKS IT LOOKS LIKE. AND THIS IS THE 3D VERSION. LOOK AT THAT GO.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: THAT IS, OF COURSE, TIME LAPSE. THERE I AM!
TED SIMONS: AND SO IT BASICALLY ROUNDS AND AGAIN YOU HAVE DO DO A LOT OF CONJECTURE HERE?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: A LOT OF THAT. IT IS EXACTLY THE SAME 3D SHAPE AS THE NASA VIDEO. THE BASIC SHAPE WE THINK IS CORRECT ALTHOUGH WE WON'T KNOW UNTIL WE ARE CLOSER. ALL THE SURFACE DETAILS ARE OUR GUESSES. THIS IS A TALENTED MAN WHO WORKS AT ASU POLY TECHIC WHO CREATED THIS.
TED SIMONS: YOU HAVE A GENERAL IDEA BECAUSE OF RADAR RETURN. HOW DOES THAT WORK?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: IT JUST LIKE WHAT POLICE OFFICERS USE TO CHECK RADAR GUNS WITH SPEED. WE BOUNCE RADAR OFF THE TINY BODY AND GET THE RETURN BACK TO EARTH. WE CAN DO IT WITH RADAR BUT IN TERMS OF LIGHT, LOOKING AT A PICTURE, THE BEST IS A PIXEL OF LIGHT LOOKING LIKE A STAR. WE HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS IN A WAY YOU AND I THINK ABOUT SEEING. WE WILL RUN A COMPETITION TO SEE WHO CAN IMAGINE WHAT A METAL WORLD LOOK LIKE BEFORE WE GET THERE.
TED SIMONS: THAT IS A GREAT IDEA. WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WILL LOOK LIKE WHEN YOU FINALLY GET A CHANCE TO LACK AT IT.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: RIGHT. BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN TO THE MOON AND MARS MADE OF ROCK AND ICE AND GASSY OUTSIDE BUT HUMANKIND HAS NEVER BEEN TO A METAL OBJECT BEFORE THIS IS OUR VERY FIRST TIME GOING TO A METAL WORLD.
TED SIMONS: IS THIS IN THE ASTEROID BELT?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: THAT IS RIGHT.
TED SIMONS: HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GO AROUND THE SUN?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: IT TAKES OVER FOUR YEARS TO GO ALL THE WAY AROUND. SO IT HAS A VERY LONG SEASON
TED SIMONS: DOES IT REVOLVE?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: YES, IT ROTATES. IT HAS AN AXIS LIKE THE EARTH BUT SOMETHING DISASTORUS HAPPENED AND KNOCKED IT OVER SO ITS ROTATION IS ACTUALLY FLAT. SO IT ROTATES LIKE THIS INSTEAD OF LIKE THIS.
TED SIMONS: IT IS FASCINATING TO THINK THERE COULD HAVE BEEN ANOTHER PLANET OUT THERE JUST AS BIG AS LIFE IN THE SKY, IN OUR SKY, AND SOMETHING -- WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED? COULD IT HAVE GOTTEN BOMBARDED BY THINGS? MORE THAN LIKELY THAT IS IT?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: WE THINK SO…VERY EARLY IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM WE STARTED WITH DUST AND SAND GRAIN MATERIAL THAT CLUMPED TOGETHER. WE HAVE EVIDENCE FROM MEOTORITES THAT SHOWS THAT THESE SMALL PLANETS FORMED WITHIN 500,000 YEARS WHICH SOUNDS LIKE A LONG TIME TO HUMANS BUT THEY FORMED IN THE FIRST THREE SECONDS IF THE SOLAR SYSTEM IS 24 HOURS LONG AND CLUMPED TOGETHER TO MAKE THE MOON AND MARS BUT THEY HAD HAVE A LOT OF COLLISIONS ALONG THE WAY AND SOME BUILT THEM INTO BIGGER BODIES AND SOME BROKE APART. WE CALL THOSE HIT-AND-RUN COLLOSIONS. SO WE THINK PSYCHE HAD A LOT OF HIT-AND-RUN COLLOSIONS.
TED SIMONS: : COMPARE PSYCHE TO THE MOONS OF THE PLANETS.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: IT IS IN THAT RANGE. THERE ARE SMALL MOONS OF PLANTS AND REALLY BIG MOONS. SOME OF THE BIG MOONS ARE ALMOST THE SIZE OF THE EARTH. THERE IS A BIG RANGE.
TED SIMONS: SO YOU ARE LAUNCHING IN 2023?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: THAT IS THE CURRENT PLAN.
TED SIMONS: HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET THERE?
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: AT THE MOMENT, WE ARE LOOKING AT TRAJECTORY FROM THE EARTH THAT GETS US THERE BY 2030.
TED SIMONS: A SEVEN YEAR FLIGHT TO GET TO THAT THING.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: BUT WAIT AND SEE.IT IS POSSIBLE WE CAN SHORTEN THAT AS WE STUDY FURTHER.
TED SIMONS: YOU HAVE TO BE PRETTY EXCITED.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: I AM 70% BELIEVING IT IS REAL. WE ARE UNDERSCORING HOW IN ARIZONA WE ARE AN AEROSPACE STRENGTH HERE. I'M REALLY PROUD TO BE APART OF IT.
TED SIMONS: INDEED. IT HELPS ASU'S REPUTATION CERTAINLY. GOOD LUCK. AT LEAST YOU HAVE A MODEL GOING HERE. I WANT TO GET IN ON THE CONTEST. PUT A GOLF COURSE UP THERE AND MAYBE I WILL WIN A PRIZE. GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE, CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR SUCCESS AND GOOD LUCK ON FUTURE OF THE MISSION.
LINDY ELKINS TANTON: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR INTEREST.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton: Director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration

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