The 68-image stellar mosaic was captured by the spacecraft’s twin cameras.
Dec. 4, the day the probe opened its eyes to the universe, was a significant one for NASA’s Psyche spacecraft.

Psyche has been effectively exploring the universe in darkness since its October 13 launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket—the Heavy’s first interplanetary mission, to be exact—because scientists haven’t yet activated the solar-winged craft’s cameras. It is currently traveling to explore 16 Psyche, an asteroid named after one of our fellow solar system planets that is located halfway between Mars and Jupiter. To put it briefly, planetary scientists are quite interested in this space rock because they think it is almost totally composed of metal, specifically iron and nickel.

This is significant because those are the particular metals that are present in the Earth’s core. In other words, 16 Psyche provides us with a deceptive means of examining the planet’s core, something that is not possible for us to do directly. Additionally, the mission team reported on December 5 that the Psyche spacecraft’s imaging instrument—a pair of twin cameras—had captured its first-ever space image while en route to 16 Psyche.

What you see above is a mosaic of unprocessed data that the ship took on December 4th, showing the range of stars that Psyche could view. “Raw data” simply refers to background noise in the picture that hasn’t been extracted, such as superfluous light signals. However, the team promises to work on this fine-tuning in the coming days.
As with most groundbreaking photos taken with a spacecraft, this one is aptly dubbed Psyche’s “first light.”
The Psyche imager instrument lead, Jim Bell of Arizona State University, stated in a statement that “these initial images are only a curtain-opener.” “For the team that designed and operates this sophisticated instrument, first light is a thrill.”

According to Bell, in order to assess how well Psyche’s imager is working ahead of the spacecraft’s 2026 flyby of Mars and possibly capture some breathtaking pictures of the Red Planet, the crew will use star photographs similar to these. “And lastly, in 2029, we will be able to view our target asteroid Psyche in our most thrilling photos to date. We’re excited to present all of these images to the public,” Bell remarked.

In case you are curious about the image specifications, the portrait is made up of 68 individual photographs that depict bodies within the constellation Pisces. This is because the cameras were aimed at that location when they were turned on. The remaining stars in the field of vision have magnitudes ranging from 7 to 9, with “mu Pisces” being the brightest star visible at 4.9.

Something with a magnitude of 0 is 100 times brighter than something with a magnitude of 5 in the context of the magnitude system. The brightest satellite in the night sky, Bluewalker 3, has attained a peak magnitude of 0.4, while the full moon has a magnitude of -12.6 as viewed from Earth. As you might expect, scientists are not very happy about that latter detail.
According to the team, the field of view measures roughly 8 degrees in width and 3.5 degrees in height. With the fitting names of “Imager A” and “Imager B,” A captured the left side of the mosaic while B captured the right. Through capturing multiple photos like this one and adjusting the calibration accordingly, the Psyche team hopes to

Notably, Psyche’s groundbreaking Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) gadget, which is around 10 million miles away from Earth, received its first light medal just last month, among other accomplishments. The instrument’s neutron-detecting sensors, which are intended to analyze 16 Psyche’s chemical makeup — possibly the mission’s most important milestone — are expected to start ringing during the week of December 11.

Topics #First Light #metal asteroid #NASA #Psyche spacecraft