The triaxial ellipsoid size, density, and rotational pole of asteroid (16) Psyche from Keck and Gemini AO observations 2004–2015

Jack D. Drummond, William J. Merline, Benoit Carry, Al Conrad, Vishnu Reddy, Peter Tamblyn, Clark R. Chapman, Brian L. Enke, Imke de Pater, Katherine de Kleer, Julian Christou, Christophe Dumas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


We analyze a comprehensive set of our adaptive optics (AO) images taken at the 10 m W. M. Keck telescope and the 8 m Gemini telescope to derive values for the size, shape, and rotational pole of asteroid (16) Psyche. Our fit of a large number of AO images, spanning 14 years and covering a range of viewing geometries, allows a well-constrained model that yields small uncertainties in all measured and derived parameters, including triaxial ellipsoid dimensions, rotational pole, volume, and density. We find a best fit set of triaxial ellipsoid diameters of (a,b,c) = (274 ± 9, 231 ± 7, 176 ± 7) km, with an average diameter of 223 ± 7 km. Continuing the literature review of Carry (2012), we find a new mass for Psyche of 2.43 ± 0.35 × 1019 kg that, with the volume from our size, leads to a density estimate 4.16 ± 0.64 g/cm3. The largest contribution to the uncertainty in the density, however, still comes from the uncertainty in the mass, not our volume. Psyche's M classification, combined with its high radar albedo, suggests at least a surface metallic composition. If Psyche is composed of pure nickel-iron, the density we derive implies a macro-porosity of 47%, suggesting that it may be an exposed, disrupted, and reassembled core of a Vesta-like planetesimal. The rotational pole position (critical for planning spacecraft mission operations) that we find is consistent with others, but with a reduced uncertainty: [RA;Dec]=[32°;+5°] or Ecliptic [λ; δ]=[32;−8] with an uncertainty radius of 3°. Our results provide independent measurements of fundamental parameters for this M-type asteroid, and demonstrate that the parameters are well determined by all techniques, including setting the prime meridian over the longest principal axis. The 5.00 year orbital period of Psyche produces only four distinct opposition geometries, suggesting that observations before the arrival of Psyche Mission in 2030 should perhaps emphasize observations away from opposition, although the penalty then would be that the asteroid will be fainter and further than at opposition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-185
Number of pages12
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • Adaptive optics
  • Asteroid Psyche
  • Asteroid surfaces
  • Image processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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