NASA plans to send a spacecraft to a giant metal asteroid that may unveil the secret of how the solar system was formed.
The space program is teaming up with researchers from Arizona State University for the robotic mission, which will launch in 2023.
Besides being one of the largest asteroids that astronomers know of and one of the most massive objects in the asteroid belt, the 200-kilometer-wide 16 Psyche is different from other asteroids with rocky and icy bodies because it is primarily made of metals.
"This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world - not one of rock or ice, but of metal", said Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe in a news release. "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. We learn about inner space by visiting outer space", added Elkins-Tanton.
The asteroid measures 124 miles in diameter and the iron on it alone is worth $10,000 quadrillion, NASA said in a statement. The collisions blasted away the outer rocky layers of the primitive planet, exposing the metallic core, that is, 16 Psyche.
"Well, let's go explore it first and see what it's made of and then we can let people decide what they want to do with it", said David Oh, a systems engineer for the Psyche mission project.
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Located in the vast asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and believed to be the core of a long-dead planet, this floating hulk is unique in our solar system because it is made nearly entirely of metal. The craft is scheduled to arrive at the asteroid in 2030 where it will spend 20 months studying the rock and mapping it.
16 Psyche could have lost its outer core due to collisions over time.
It's called 16 Psyche and is believed to be made nearly entirely of nickel and iron.
Bringing it to Earth for Money? "This is wild speculation obviously". "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?"
"Short of it being the Death Star... one other possibility is that it's material that formed very near the (sun) early in the solar system."
The mission will help scientists understand how planets and other bodies separated into their layers - including cores, mantles and crusts - early in their histories.