NASA is closing in on the launch of an ambitious mission to probe an asteroid worth an estimated 10,000 quadrillion dollars.
The space rock 16-Psyche is twice as wide as Wales and is nestled in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Discovered in 1852, it was once known as the “golden asteroid” as scientists believed it was mostly composed of the precious metal.
Subsequent observations, however, hint that Psyche is most likely made up of a mix of rock, iron and nickel.
This summer, NASA will embark on a mission to study the metal-rich object in an effort to determine its origins.
It will be NASA’s first visit to a metallic asteroid.
After lifting off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the Psyche probe will arrive at its target in early 2026.
It’s thought that the asteroid is the shattered core of a planetesimal – a small world the size of a city or small country.
The blobs of material are the first building blocks of planets and it’s thought they were plentiful in the early universe.
If Psyche is a planetesimal, it can shed light on the interior of terrestrial planets like Earth.
The core of our own world is hidden beneath miles and miles of mantle and crust, making it nearly impossible to study.
NASA’s spacecraft will use an array of instruments to investigate Psyche’s magnetic field, gravitational pull, surface makeup and more.
NASA says: “During 21 months in orbit, the spacecraft will map and study Psyche.”
“The mission’s goal is, among other things, to determine whether Psyche is indeed the core of a planetesimal.”
Astronomers on Earth have studied Psyche in great detail and believe it’s shaped somewhat like a potato.
In total, it’s estimated that Psyche’s various metals are worth a gargantuan $12,000 quadrillion.
That means if we carried it back to Earth, it would destroy commodity prices and cause the world’s economy – worth £59.5 trillion – to collapse.
We’ve known about Psyche 16 for a while, but its potential to cause havoc on Earth was recently touched upon by a veteran miner.
Scott Moore, who heads up EuroSun Mining, said the sheer amount of gold in the asteroid threatens to throw the gold industry into chaos.
“The ‘Titans of Gold’ now control hundreds of the best-producing properties around the world,” he told Oil Price in 2019.
“But the 4-5 million ounces of gold they bring to the market every year pales in comparison to the conquests available in space.”
Fortunately, NASA is taking the trip for scientific purposes and isn’t planning on conducting any mining.
Psyche was discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852.
He named the asteroid after Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul who married Eros (Roman Cupid), the god of Love.