NASA Is Planning A Mission To An Enormous Metallic Asteroid Worth $10,000 Quadrillion
230 million miles from the Earth, there’s a really big rock.
It’s one of several really big rocks floating in the solar system’s asteroid belt, but this particular rock just so happens to be worth more than the entire global economy.
The rock in question is an asteroid named 16 Psyche, and NASA has big plans to send a mission to visit it in 2026.
Recent pictures of 16 Psyche taken by the Hubble space telescope have given scientists a clearer picture of the asteroid, and they say it’s one of the most unique and valuable they’ve ever seen, Forbes reports.
The asteroid, which measures about 140 miles wide, is one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, which runs between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
As well as being unusual in its size, unlike other asteroids which are typically made of ice or rock, 16 Psyche is believed to be almost entirely metallic.
Its properties are so rare that scientists believe it might not actually be a regular asteroid at all, but instead the leftover core of a planet that failed to properly form, known as a ‘protoplanet’.
A new paper about 16 Psyche was published in the Planetary Science Journal this week, following a study led by Dr Tracy Becker that used photos taken by the Hubble telescope from two different angles as well as ultraviolet wavelengths to study the asteroid’s properties.
Dr Becker, who works at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, said:
We’ve seen meteorites that are mostly metal, but Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of iron and nickel.
It’s possible that as a Psyche protoplanet was forming, it was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust.
And while Becker says it’s difficult to put a figure on exactly how much iron 16 Psyche actually contains, previous estimates have suggested it could be worth as much as $10,000 quadrillion (£8,000 quadrillion). For comparison, the world’s economy is estimated to be worth around $149 trillion.
NASA has had its eye on 16 Psyche for some time now, announcing in 2017 it was fast tracking a mission to the asteroid. The Psyche mission is due to launch on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in 2022, and is expected to reach the asteroid in 2026, four years ahead of NASA’s initial schedule.
And while many observers are mainly interested in the financial value of the asteroid, Dr Becker believes that seeing the remains of a planetary core up close is just as worthwhile.
Even if it doesn’t turn out as we expect… any time there’s a surprise, it’s always exciting.
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