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02/17/2022 – Ephemeris – Mission to a metallic asteroid

February 17, 2022

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, February 17th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 34 minutes, setting at 6:14, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:38. The Moon, 1 day past full, will rise at 7:21 this evening.

In August this year, one of the three scheduled Falcon-Heavy rocket launches this year will send the Psyche spacecraft on a four-year journey to its namesake asteroid, 16 Psyche. It is an unusual asteroid, thought to be 30 to 60 percent iron-nickel in composition. The spacecraft will swing by Mars for a gravitational boost. After the chemical powered boost into solar orbit, the spacecraft will open its huge solar panels in the shape of two crosses to feed its power hungry electric thrusters to complete the journey and to orbit 16 Psyche. The thrusters are Hall Effect thrusters, the first used in space, that use magnetic fields instead of electric fields to eject xenon gas ions to provide thrust. It is expected to arrive at 16 Psyche in 2026.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Artist's visualization of the spacecraft Psyche orbiting asteroid 16 Psyche

Artist’s visualization of the spacecraft Psyche orbiting asteroid 16 Psyche. This imagining seems to assume the asteroid is nearly 100% metallic. Credit: NASA.

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