Scientists have often observed celestial objects that are more valuable than all wealth combined on Earth. But mostly they are so far away that getting a hold of them is beyond current technological capabilities. However, the Hubble Space Telescope has found one asteroid that is not so far away and could be worth $10,000 quadrillion.
The asteroid named '16 Psyche', located at the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter some 230 million miles away (roughly 370 million kilometers). What makes it so valuable is its content. While most of the asteroids that are either icy or rocky, 16 Psyche is made up of almost entirely metal. Like the Earth's core, it is made up of entirely iron and nickel.
The giant metal ball is of the size of West Virginia — about 140 miles or 226 kilometers as per the study that was published in Planetary Science Journal. "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, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas and one of the authors of the study told Observer.
Worth $10,000 Quadrillion
To put 16 Psyche's iron and nickel deposits in dollar value, it is estimated to be worth $10,000 quadrillion, making it one of the most valuable space objects that scientists have ever found. That is about 10,000 times the global economy of 2019. Hence, if mining in space ever becomes a reality and feasible, many companies would like to visit the asteroid in the future.
For now, NASA scientists would be sending a probe to the asteroid by 2022. Named as NASA Discovery Mission Psyche, a probe will be launched atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to study the asteroid further as it would give us a complete understanding of its metal content as well as how a core looks like.
"This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world - not one of rock or ice, but of metal. 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," Dr Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the NASA mission's lead scientist and the Director of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration, said in a statement.
How Was It Discovered?
Scientists believe that the asteroid is a remnant of a dead planet. It might have formed during the creation of the solar system. But due to constant collision with other objects, the planet never came to be and the core cooled off remaining as an asteroid. That's why the content of the asteroid is similar to Earth's core.
Scientists used Hubble Space Telescope's Imaging Spectrograph to study the content of the asteroid. From the ultraviolet spectrum data that they collected scientists assumed that it was mostly pure iron. "We were able to identify for the first time on any asteroid what we think are iron oxide ultraviolet absorption bands," Becker told Science Daily.
"This is an indication that oxidation is happening on the asteroid, which could be a result of the solar wind hitting the surface," she added.
However, it will need to be studied further as even a small amount of iron will dominate the ultraviolet spectrograph. For now, we have to wait for the probe to commence its mission and reach 16 Psyche. It would be the second NASA mission to an asteroid following Bennu's OSIRIS-REx mission to collect rock samples.