NASA is set to launch a probe the size of a tennis court to the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter this year; where the remnants of the early solar system circle the sun.

After the probe reaches the asteroid belt, it will zero in on Psyche, a large, metal-rich asteroid that is thought to be the ancient core of an early planet.

In fact, the probe itself is named after the asteroid and will spend close to two years orbiting and analysing how early planetary bodies evolved.

But ahead of the mission, planetary scientists have prepared the most detailed maps of the asteroid’s surface to date.

These maps are created based on the observations taken by a large array of ground telescopes in northern Chile.

The maps show vast metal-rich regions across the asteroid’s surface, along with a large depression that appears to have a different surface texture between the interior and its rim.

This difference could potentially be a crater filled with finer sand and rimmed with rockier material. The research team presented the maps in a research article titled, “The Heterogeneous Surface of Asteroid (16) Psyche,” published in the journal JGR Planets.

Overall, Psyche’s surface was revealed to be surprisingly varied in its property. The maps also hint at the asteroid’s history.