|By Kramer Phillips | 4 years ago|
Some space rocks are more valuable than others. One asteroid called 16 Psyche stands out, not only because it is almost all metal, but because of that metal’s calculated price in Earth money: $28 thousand-quadrillion. For comparison, the grant total value of all of the currency on Earth is only around $60 trillion. The asteroid’s attributes have attracted the attention of NASA, which is planning to send a robot spacecraft to study it in 2022.
This mission is expected to reach 16 Psyche in 2026. The asteroid’s location is in the asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, where it follows an orbit that circles around the sun every five years.
The asteroid owes its value to its composition, which is almost entirely metal. It is also massive by asteroid standards: Measuring 200 kilometers in width, and its mass is packed unusually densely. By NASA’s calculations, it holds 1% of the entire mass of the asteroid belt.
Astronomers actually suspect it is not a mere asteroid at all, but the former core of a bygone planet. The robot mission will drill into 16 Psyche’s surface and analyze it to test this hypothesis. If it proves true, it will be our one and only opportunity to view a planetary core up close. Our own planet’s core could never be viewed in this way, since it is buried under hundreds of thousands of miles of rock.
“16 Psyche is the only known object of its kind in the solar system, and this is the only way humans will ever visit a core,” said Lindsey Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University researcher and principal investigator. “We learn about inner space by visiting outer space.”