NASA prices metallic asteroid at $10,000 quadrillion

NASA believes asteroid “16 Psyche”, which is orbiting the Sun, might contain metals worth $10,000 quadrillion ($10 quintillion, that’s $10,000,000,000,000,000,000 ! ) – it is equivalent to ten thousand times the global economy in 2019. The new research suggests that the asteroid is mostly made of iron and nickel.

16 Psyche is a large asteroid discovered by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on 17 March 1852 from Naples and named after the Greek mythological figure Psyche. 16 Psyche was the 16th asteroid to be discovered. It is one of the dozen most massive asteroids, containing about 1% of the mass of the asteroid belt, and is over 200 kilometres in diameter.  Psyche is also the name of a NASA space mission to visit that asteroid.

The asteroid is located in our solar system’s asteroid belt between the planets of Mars and Jupiter. It is located roughly 370 million kilometres (230 million miles) from the Earth and measures 226 kilometres across – roughly about the size of West Virginia.

Psyche seems to have a surface that is 90% metallic and 10% silicate rock with 6±1% of orthopyroxene. However, the exact composition of Psyche is still unclear. There can also be gold, PGM metals, rare earth elements, etc. in smaller quantities. The value of the metals it contains, disregarding their effect on market prices, has been estimated at $10,000 quadrillion.

In May 2017, NASA decided to visit the asteroid; the launch date was moved to 2022, with a Mars gravity assist in 2023 and arriving at the metallic destination in 2026. On February 28, 2020, NASA awarded SpaceX a US$117 million contract to launch the Psyche spacecraft, and two smallsat secondary missions, on a Falcon Heavy rocket in July 2022.

We’re all going to be billionaires!

The bad news is that it isn’t going to happen. Even if 16 Psyche and other asteroids would be mined for their metals, once those metals hit the market in large quantities, their prices will collapse. And NASA has not yet planned to mine the metals; the agency just wants to do a little research, that’s all.

16 Psyche is believed to be the dead core of a planet that might have failed during its formative stages or it could also be the result of many violent space collisions. When the Psyche space probe will reach the asteroid in 2026, it will hopefully uncover its exact metal content and other secrets.

The Psyche spacecraft orbit the asteroid for 21 months. Once the mission is complete, the spacecraft will stay in orbit around 16 Psyche, like a moon. This is also how NASA’s Dawn Mission ended.

The mission costs approximately $850 million. “This amount does not include cost for the launch service, which is procured separately,” NASA said.

“Because we cannot see or measure Earth’s core directly, the Psyche asteroid may offer a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created the terrestrial planets,” NASA said.

This is important because we cannot visit the core of the earth which lies at a depth of 3,000 kilometres. As of now, scientists and researchers have managed to drill only up to 12 kilometres – that’s the most the technology today allows. Moreover, Earth’s core lies at around 3 million times the pressure of the atmosphere. “The temperature of Earth’s core is about 5,000 Celsius,” Nasa said.

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