Planetary Geologic Mapping – Penn State (Behrend)
Pennsylvania State University – Behrend
Nickel Class (2020 – 2021)
James Lanham, Software Engineering
Gregory Cubitt, Computer Science
Logan Jones, Software Engineering
Psyche is both the name of a metal-rich asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, and the name of a NASA space mission to visit that asteroid, led by Arizona State University. Though scientists have combined radar and optical observations to generate a 3D shape model of Psyche, which suggests that there is significant variation in the metal content and color of the asteroid over the surface, no one has seen the Psyche asteroid yet, so we will not know what it actually looks like until the spacecraft arrives in early 2026. In preparation for arrival at Psyche, scientists on the mission are thinking about geologic mapping of the asteroid’s surface. This capstone project aims to contribute to that work. Working closely with Psyche mission team members, they are learning the basics of how planetary scientists created geologic maps of objects in the solar system never visited by humans and learned to use ArcGIS software (a skill that is sought after by employers like the U.S. Geological Survey, environmental companies, and city urban planning departments). Then, they create the first ever hypothetical geologic map of the Psyche asteroid based on a scientifically-informed rendering of the asteroid’s surface. Their map will help inform discussions among Psyche team members as they prepare for working with real Psyche surface data in the late 2020s and will also serve as an exciting way to educate the public about the value of geologic maps and how we come to understand the histories of planetary bodies we will never get to see in person.