This Asteroid is a $10,000-Quadrillion Lump of Iron and a Potential Opportunity to Study an Exposed Planetary Core
As the only entirely-metallic planetesimal known in our solar system, 16 Psyche offers a view of a planet's metal core like ours.
Science & Tech
Out between Mars and Jupiter in the solar system’s asteroid belt, there’s a lump of iron and nickel called 16 Psyche that has a value of $10,000 quadrillion: that’s 70,000-times more than the entire world economy.
With measurements of its density paired with its 140 mile-diameter, recent telescopic surveys with different spectrums of UV light have confirmed the asteroid to be around 90% iron, adding the last value in the equation to give 16 Psyche its whopping price tag.
Sitting 230 million miles from Earth, it offers a much different kind of value to scientists, namely to study one of the largest entirely-metal objects in the solar system, one which scientists believe could be a protoplanet that was disrupted during natural formation.
It’s now the subject of a 2022 NASA mission that will send an orbiter on a 3.5 year-mission to study a new type of world made of metal.
The orbiter will try to determine whether it’s simply a mass of iron and nickel, or indeed a planet’s core, as well as its age, and whether it can contain lighter elements found in Earth’s high-pressure core.
“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,” said Dr. Tracy Becker, an expert on 16 Psyche from the Southwest Research Institute.