NASA has recently announced its mission to explore a mysterious asteroid known as 16 Psyche. Unlike other asteroids that are made of rock and ice, this one is thought to be made of metals like iron, nickel and possibly even gold. NASA has teamed up with experts from the Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration to launch the mission.
Lead scientist on the NASA mission, Dr Lindy Elkins-Tanton says: “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”. Dr Elkins-Tanton estimates that the iron in 16 psyche alone, would be worth $10,000 quadrillion.
However, NASA isn’t planning this mission for business reasons, but to assess if Psyche is a ‘protoplanet,’ or the exposed core of an early planet. NASA plans to launch a spacecraft in 2023 and it will arrive at Psyche in 2030. It will then spend around 20 months orbiting around the asteroid collecting information, studying its properties and mapping the surface.
Scientists hope that exploring this asteroid will provide them with new insights into how planets are formed. This mission could also help us understand how planets and other bodies separated into their layers – including cores, mantles and crusts.
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