Psyche: Why are scientists so interested in this $10,000-quadrillion asteroid?
A new study has found that an asteroid in our solar system, Asteroid 16 Psyche, could be made entirely of metal and is worth an estimated $10,000 quadrillion. However, that's not the thing that makes it interesting. Scientists believe Psyche could be the metallic core remnant of a former planet and studying it could help us understand the core of our own planet.
Psyche mostly made of iron and nickel
A new study published on Monday in The Planetary Science Journal has found that Asteroid 16 Psyche—which orbits between Mars and Jupiter—is mostly made of iron and nickel. The asteroid is over 200 kilometers in length and it has been hypothesized that it could be worth about $10,000 quadrillion, which is more than the entire economy on our planet.
Study includes first UV observations of Psyche
The study includes the first ultraviolet observations of Psyche, exploring the surface and possible composition of the asteroid. Scientists observed Psyche through the Hubble at two specific points in its rotation, capturing both sides of the asteroid. Lead study author Tracy Becker told CNN, "The way the ultraviolet light was reflected from Psyche was very, very similar to the way iron reflects sunlight."
Why is studying Psyche important?
Scientists say Psyche possibly lost its mantle and crust due to collisions that might have occurred during the formation of the solar system. Becker told CNN that studying Psyche could better our understanding of the early times in our solar system when objects would've had "higher inclinations and crazier eccentricities." It could also tell us more about the core of Earth, Becker added.
'Pyshce is our way to explore Earth'
NASA Psyche Mission Co-Investigator Dr. Tim McCoy has said in the past, "We've known for two centuries that our core was made of metal, but we haven't been able to explore. We can't drill a hole that deep." He had said, "What we've been looking for for years is metallic asteroids—something that's very dense... Pyshce is our way to explore our own planet."
What did the study find?
Becker said the study detected two possible signals of changes to Psyche's surface due to solar winds. "The first one was that as we went deeper into the UV, we started to see the asteroid get brighter, which is pretty rare." Becker said the second signal was the detection of iron oxide ultraviolet absorption bands, implying possible interaction with oxygen and the metal.
NASA mission to Psyche in 2022
NASA is planning to send an unmanned spacecraft to Psyche in 2022. The mission's launch will take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. The unmanned aircraft will reach Psyche by January 2026, and orbit the asteroid for 21 months, mapping it and studying it from a distance, the mission's principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton told CNN.
Can we mine this $10,000-quadrillion rock for resources?
Elkins-Tanton said the mission will help us understand "the ingredients that went into making the cake"—planet Earth. However, she said that we cannot mine the asteroid for resources. "We cannot bring Psyche back to Earth. We have absolutely no technology to do that," Elkins-Tanton told CNN. Even if we could, Elkins-Tanton said doing so could possibly collapse the markets.