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NASA Mission to Asteroid “Psyche” Marks Milestone: "First Light"

On Dec. 4, the cameras onboard the Psyche spacecraft, which was launched on Oct. 13, 2023, took their first images while 26 million km away from Earth. It’s on its way to the Asteroid Belt, to investigate a unique asteroid Psyche, which isn’t primarily rock or ice, but metal. This is the first such mission.

The spacecraft has several instruments on board—a Multispectral Imager, Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrometer, Magnetometer and X-band Gravity Science Investigation.

“The first image from Psyche shows stars in the constellation Pisces, which the spacecraft’s Multispectral Imager instrument happened to be pointing at when it was first turned on. Each of the instrument’s two identical cameras took one image, both of which were stitched together to create one picture,” noted NASA Spaceflight. “First light” refers to the first astronomical images taken by a new telescope or other instrument after its construction.

“’These initial images are only a curtain-opener,’ said Psyche imager instrument lead Jim Bell of Arizona State University. ‘For the team that designed and operates this sophisticated instrument, first light is a thrill. We start checking out the cameras with star images like these, then in 2026 we’ll take test images of Mars during the spacecraft’s flyby. And finally, in 2029, we’ll get our most exciting images yet—of our target asteroid Psyche. We look forward to sharing all of these visuals with the public.’

“The team captured 68 images to test and calibrate the instrument and its filters. These filters allow scientists to observe 16 Psyche in different wavelengths of light and analyze the composition of the asteroid’s surface. Additionally, they will use the cameras to study Psyche’s geology and history by creating a 3D map of the asteroid.”

Psyche will also be using Deep Space Optical Communication, described in a previous briefing, to transmit data over these long distances.

You can view the picture that Psyche took here—use the slider to distinguish the stars. To read more about the mission, please visit here.