What would you do if you found a huge shiny metal-rich planet floating "nearby" in space? Well, NASA is going after it and plans to launch a ship in 2022.
This huge metallic asteroid was found on March 17, 1852, by an Italian astronomer named Annibale de Gasparis. He named it after the Greek mythological god Psyche who represents the spirit. It's one of the largest asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and is classified as a metallic "M-class" asteroid. Scientists believe 16 Psyche is the core of an ancient planet in the extremely rare state of being completely exposed with no harsh atmosphere impeding exploration. This provides a unique opportunity to examine the inside of a planet to hopefully learn how ones such as ours are formed.
It's Worth How Much?!
Based on remote analysis, scientists have determined it contains iron, nickel, gold, platinum, copper, and other precious metals, making this a huge 156-mile wide untapped "goldmine" just waiting to be harvested. By calculating the mass and current metal prices, Dr. Elkins-Tanton estimates 16 Psyche's iron alone to be worth $10,000 quadrillion!
Well, it's not surprising considering this is the core of a planet.
The implications of adding this wealth into Earth's commodity markets could actually be catastrophic. The prices of these metals may crash to almost zero and disrupting mining, manufacturing, and governmental industries.
But that probably won't stop people from jumping on $10,000+ quadrillion jackpot.
Dr. Elkins-Tanton said: 'Even if we could grab a big metal piece and drag it back here … what would you do? Could you kind of sit on it and hide it and control the global resource — kind of like diamonds are controlled corporately — and protect your market? What if you decided you were going to bring it back and you were just going to solve the metal resource problems of humankind for all time? This is wild speculation obviously.'
Both these educational and economical reasons have convinced NASA to launch a spaceship to claim it. The difficulties of mining the ore in space and transportation back and forth to Earth may be well worth it.
There and Back Again
NASA originally planned to send a ship there by 2030 but have recently figured out a more efficient way to get there 4 years earlier by 2026, and they're excited about it. The new trajectory avoids an accelerating orbit-swing around Earth and slingshotting near the sun.
'We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory to the asteroid Psyche, and they came through in a big way,' said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
'This will enable us to fulfill our science objectives sooner and at a reduced cost.'
'The biggest advantage is the excellent trajectory, which gets us there about twice as fast and is more cost-effective,' said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe.
'We are all extremely excited that NASA was able to accommodate this earlier launch date.
'The world will see this amazing metal world so much sooner.'
The trajectory will still include a Mars gravity assist in 2023.
'The change in plans is a great boost for the team and the mission,' said Psyche Project Manager Henry Stone at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
'Our mission design team did a fantastic job coming up with this ideal launch opportunity.'
This more efficient travel route also means it would be easier to return to home base Earth with special deliveries. But the challenges of reusable rockets capable of landing or even parachuting cargo down may keep such precious payloads out of Earth's reach for now.
The spacecraft's payload will mainly contain magnetometers, multispectral imagers, and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer. These will be used to study the protoplanet's origins and verify theories of how planets are born and die. Psyche will be the first metal planet ever explored by humans. Much of our knowledge of planetary evolution comes from studying meteorites.
Lindy Elkins-Tanton the lead scientist on the Nasa mission and the director of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration, said: '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. I figure we're either going to go see something that's really improbable and unique, or something that is completely astonishing.'
This may become a resource-rich base for manufacturing all kinds of equipment and used as a stepping stone for space exploration. And if NASA finds water there, then it could increase the chances of growing a sustainable living population there as well.