NASA to check out an asteroid that might be a failed planet and may potentially be worth more than our global economy.
We don’t think about it often, but there’s something very large and very important hanging out between Mars and Jupiter. It’s not a secret planet that scientists have been keeping from us, it’s a massive asteroid belt. Within this asteroid belt is a giant rock known as 16 Psyche, and it’s a monster.
It measures roughly 140 miles in diameter, making it one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, but its size is only part of the reason that it’s so interesting. Psyche has an incredibly high metal content, and while many asteroids have high concentrations of metal, new research suggests that Psyche might be entirely made up of metal, meaning that it might have a very exciting history.
In a new study published in The Planetary Science Journal, researchers reveal more details about Psyche and help to hammer home some previous observations with additional evidence. It seems increasingly clear that the space rock is the leftover husk of a failed planet that never formed. That’s pretty incredible when you think about it, as we’re essentially looking at a baby planet frozen in time, never living up to its potential.
“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,” Dr. Tracey Becker, author of the study, said in a statement. “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.”
The researchers used UV instruments to observe the the asteroid's surface to get a better idea of its metal content. They discovered that it's almost certainly 100 percent metal. And not just any metal, but nickel and iron, which are incredibly valuable here on Earth.
Forbes reports that the rock is therefore likely to be worth somewhere in the region of $10,000 quadrillion. To give you an idea of just how much cash we’re talking about here: one quadrillion is a million times a million times a thousand,
Of course, figuring out how to mine another planet, much less an asteroid, is still something that scientists and engineers are puzzling over. Nevertheless, it’s been said that the richest person on Earth may eventually be the person who figures out how to mine asteroids, so there are likely to be plenty of people already working on the problem!