|Arthur Dominic Villasanta |||May 27, 2017 06:21 AM EDT|
(Photo : NASA) 16 Psyche.
(Photo : NASA) Psyche spacecraft.
NASA plans to send a probe to a mammoth asteroid whose mineral wealth is estimated to be worth an out of this world $10,000,000,000,000,000 ($10 quadrillion), but not to mine this unimaginably rich hunk of space rock orbiting the asteroid belt between Earth and Mars.
Instead, NASA plans to launch a spacecraft named Psyche to explore this asteroid named 16 Psyche in an effort to find out how our solar system was formed. As part of the Discovery Program, Psyche is scheduled for launch in the summer of 2022 and will catch-up to 16 Psyche some four years later.
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The spacecraft will orbit 16 Psyche for six months, and study its topography, surface features, gravity, magnetism, and other characteristics. 16 Psyche is a massive hunk of precious metals, including platinum and gold, and is almost pure iron and nickel.
It's one of the 10 most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt. It's over 200 km in diameter and is thought to be the exposed iron core of a protoplanet. 16 Psyche is the most massive metallic M-type asteroid.
It's estimated to be worth $10,000 quadrillion, according to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, lead scientist on the NASA Discovery Program.
The mission will be led by Arizona State University researchers. NASA wants to know if the asteroid, thought to be made of iron and nickel, might have been part of what was an proto planet perhaps as large as Mars.
The mission might shed light on how planets and other masses broke up into cores, mantles and crusts.
"This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world - not one of rock or ice, but of metal," said Elkins-Tanton, Psyche's principal investigator.
"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."
NASA has no plans to mine the asteroid.
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