Somewhere between Mars and Jupiter is a massive hunk of metal careening through space, carrying with it a hefty monetary value. Monday, a new study published in The Planetary Science Journal shined a new light on Asteroid 16 Psyche, an asteroid with a diameter of roughly 140 miles. According to previous reports, the asteroid is reportedly worth upwards of $10,000 quadrillion due to its suspected iron makeup. In comparison, the size of the global economy hovered around $133 trillion in 2019.
In the latest study published, scientists at the Southwest Research Institute used the first ultraviolet observations of Psyche in an attempt to gather more information about its surface and elemental makeup. "We looked at the way that the ultraviolet light reflected off of the asteroid surface," 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."
NASA has been planning a mission around visiting the asteroid, one that will now launch in 2022. Should the Psyche spacecraft meet its target August 2022 launch, it would arrive at the asteroid in 2026. The spacecraft will primarily orbit the asteroid for 21 months to map and study the body while using a multispectral imager, a gamma ray and neturon spectrometer, and a magnetometer.
The mission is aiming to answer whether or not 16 Psyche was once the core to a planet that was weathered away due to numerous asteroid collisions in the asteroid belt. NASA scientists suspect the body is compromised primarily of iron and nickel, hence hypotheses of being a planet core.
"The Psyche mission will be the first mission to investigate a world of metal rather than of rock and ice," a page on the NASA website dedicated to the asteroid reads. "Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets—including Earth—scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie unreachable below planets' rocky mantles and crusts. Because scientists cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets."
Cover photo by Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech