Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA Plans To Explore An Asteroid Containing $10,000 Quadrillion Worth Of Minerals

ryan.ford 27 Jun 2019

When I was a kid, I figured that once I knew the names of all the planets, I knew everything I needed to know about the solar system. That's childhood for you.

Of course, the solar system is a huge mystery generator — we can't really know everything about it, but we can't help wanting to know. There are big questions to answer!

One mission coming up hopes to shed some light on at least one mystery.

The space between Mars and Jupiter is far from empty.

Giphy

It contains a vast asteroid belt that oddly also marks the dividing line between the rocky terrestrial planets of the inner solar system and the gas giants of the outer solar system. It's thought that a few different planets or plantoids failed to form there, and all the bits and pieces that would have made them up remain as asteroids.

Load Comments

There are a few oddballs out there, too, like the dwarf planet Ceres.

Giphy

Although it's far too small to be considered anything approaching a full planet, Ceres also comprises a full quarter of the asteroid belt's mass.

And then there's 16 Psyche, which is even smaller, but rich in potential.

Load Comments

It's no dwarf planet, but 16 Psyche is big for an asteroid, with an average diameter of about 140 miles — about the same as the distance between LA and San Diego.

Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

And, while the vast majority of the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter are either S-type (silica based) or C-type (carbon based), 16 Psyche is M-type (metallic).

Yes, an asteroid that large made up largely of metal is something special.

Load Comments

The major metals that make up 16 Psyche are iron and nickel.

Giphy

But of course, it's believed that there will be other metals in the mix as well, like copper, cobalt, gold, and platinum. Scientists believe that, if the asteroid could be towed back to Earth and mined, the iron alone would be worth $10,000 quadrillion U.S., enough to make everyone on Earth a billionaire.

However, given that the gross world product is a measly $73.7 trillion, 16 Psyche would pretty much collapse the world economy.

Load Comments

So, yeah, NASA is headed to 16 Psyche.

Giphy | MIT

But for the space agency, it's not about the money or the materials. The technology to get the asteroid anywhere near Earth doesn't exist.

"Even if we could grab a big metal piece and drag it back here … what would you do?" mused Arizona State University's Lindy Elkins-Tanton. "Could you kind of sit on it and hide it and control the global resource — kind of like diamonds are controlled corporately — and protect your market? What if you decided you were going to bring it back and you were just going to solve the metal resource problems of humankind for all time?"

Load Comments

For NASA, it's all about the science.

Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

And 16 Psyche represents an incredible opportunity to take a look inside the heart of a planet, as NASA's scientists believe all that iron means it might have made up a core for one of those failed planetoids. Of course, scientists can't see the core of any planet, but 16 Psyche gives the chance to look at a possibly core up close.

Load Comments

The mission to 16 Psyche is scheduled to launch in August 2022.

NASA

Because it's so far away — about three times as far from the sun as the Earth is — the probe won't arrive until 2026. Then, it will spend just shy of two years orbiting and studying the asteroid with an array of instruments like a multispectral imager, a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, and a magnetometer to figure out if it is indeed a planet's core.

Load Comments

NASA has high hopes for this mission.

Giphy

"I figure we’re either going to go see something that’s really improbable and unique, or something that is completely astonishing," said Elkins-Tanton.

Just don't plan your retirement around this mission.

h/t Global News, NASA

Load Comments
Next Article