Asteroid Made of Metal

By Jacqueline Pernice

November 18, 2020

      Most of the time when one hears about an asteroid, the immediate thought would be of a huge object hurtling towards earth, just what 2020 needs. But thankfully, this asteroid, nicknamed 16 Psyche, is not that.

   16 Psyche is considered to be one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, nearly 140 miles in diameter, which surrounds Mars and Jupiter. What makes this asteroid so unique is the fact that it is made entirely out of metal. Scientists predict that this asteroid could be worth nearly $10,000 quadrillion, so add about 15 more zeroes and you would have your number. 

  “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,” Tracy Becker of the Southwest Research Institute revealed. Becker said. “Earth has a metal core, a mantle, and crust. 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.” This would mean that this rock is worth more than the entirety of Earth’s economy. 

   Tracy Becker’s goal is to release a spacecraft also named Psyche, which would investigate the asteroid in hopes to find the origin of the asteroid. The spacecraft is set to launch in 2022 and will arrive in 2026, according to Swri.org who also exhibits that, “Metal asteroids are relatively rare in the solar system, and scientists believe Psyche could offer a unique opportunity to see inside a planet.” Observations of 16 Psyche from the Hubble Space Telescope were recorded on iopscience.iop.org. According to their site, “Psyche is best matched with the reflectance spectrum of pure iron; however, our intimate mixture models show that small grains of iron may dominate the reflectance spectrum even if iron only comprises up to 10% of the material on the surface.” 

    However, what makes this asteroid so unique is the possibility that it could be entirely composed of a nickel-iron core, without the crust like a normal planet. This nickel-iron core is what makes the asteroid so valuable. New station usatoday.com suspects that “as the Psyche protoplanet was forming, it was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust,” creating what they call an early planet. A planet that does not bear a mantle and crust.

   NASA employees stated that their goal is to learn about planetary formation, but we are not going to be trying to bring any of this material back and using it for industry Carol Polanskey, a project scientist for the Psyche mission, told CBS that NASA has no plans to bring any part of the actual asteroid material back to study. They conclude that they do not possess the technology that would allow them to mine for the metals it possesses. 

   This asteroid could be worth more than you could ever imagine, and it’s just one of the billions and billions of asteroids out there. We have yet to discover more about our ever-expanding and wondrously vast universe. Every day we discover new things, learning and taking in as much as we can about the universe in which we live. This unique asteroid is just one of the many more to come. 

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