Jackpot rock: Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch a NASA mission to an asteroid with enough precious metal to make everyone on Earth a billionaire
- Psyche 16 is about 150 miles across and believed to be made of nickel and iron
- Scientists believe it is the remnants of the rocky core of a long dead planet
- The mission will launch on top of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in July 2022
- It is expected to arrive at the mysterious metallic asteroid in 2026 where it will enter into an orbit for nearly two years to study its topography
NASA has announced Elon Musk owned SpaceX as the company to launch a mission to the £8,000 quadrillion space rock made up of the core of a long dead planet.
There are so many precious metals buried within the asteroid that it could make every single person on Earth a billionaire if it were to be returned to the planet.
NASA says the mission will explore Psyche 16, a ‘giant mysterious metallic asteroid’, that could help shed light on how rocky planets are formed in our solar system.
The $117 million (£93 million) mission will launch on a Falcon Heavy rocket in July 2022 from Cape Canaveral, Florida for the rock orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.
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In this rendering, NASA depicts a spacecraft that is capable of traveling to a distant hunk of iron and nickel that scientists say could be a planetary core
Psyche 16 was originally discovered in 1852 and is believed to be the remnants of a protoplanet destroyed by ‘hit-and-run collisions’ when the solar system was forming.
Unlike other rocky or icy bodies, Psyche 16 – spanning 150 miles across – is suspected to be made of mostly iron and nickel.
There will be no mining of the space rock, in fact NASA won’t even be landing on the surface – it’s purely scientific – and no samples will be returned to Earth.
WHAT ARE THE MISSION OBJECTIVES?
- Determine whether Psyche is a core, or if it is unmelted material
- Determine the relative ages of regions of Psyche’s surface
- Determine whether small metal bodies incorporate the same light elements as are expected in the Earth’s high-pressure core
- Determine whether Psyche was formed under conditions more oxidizing or more reducing than Earth’s core
- Characterize Psyche’s topography
SOURCE: NASA JPL
Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist calculated that the iron in 16 Psyche alone, would be worth $10,000 quadrillion (£8,072 quadrillion).
If this were returned to Earth it would cause the value of precious metals to plummet, completely devaluing all holdings including those of governments.
Ultimately, it could lead to the collapse of the entire economy, she said.
It also includes a number of other rare metals, including gold, platinum and copper.
The primary materials are iron and nickel, the same materials found in Earth’s core and possibly the core of every other rocky planet.
By examining the planet, scientists hope to get a glimpse into the solar system’s nascent past, when massive collisions were commonplace.
Using a host of instruments like a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, the craft will also be taking more precise readings of the rocks composition.
The goal will be to determine how old the asteroid is and whether it was formed the same way Earth was.
Aside from the primary objective of investigating 16 Psyche, the initiative will also test out a new kind of communications system that uses lasers to encode data in photons rather than radio waves in order to communicate with Earth.
The system will allows communications between a probe in deep space and Earth and is able to transfer more data at once than other more traditional methods.
While similar objects have been observed throughout the universe, Psyche is uncharacteristically close to Earth, making it ideal for study.
The mission is being led by Arizona State University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who will manage the mission and navigation.
The payload being launched by SpaceX includes an imager, mangetometer to measure the magnetic field and a gamma-ray spectrometer.
The secrets of our own planet could be unlocked thanks to the mission, according to NASA scientists, who say it appears remarkably similar to the Earth’s core.
The Psyche mission may offer insight into how planets are formed over time and could help solidify inferences about our early solar system.
‘Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets – including Earth – scientists think there are large solid metallic cores.
WHAT IS THE TIMELINE AND WHAT ARE THE KEY EVENTS?
- Launch: 2022
- Solar electric cruise: 3.5 years
- Arrival at Psyche: 2026
- Observation Period: 21 months in orbit, mapping and studying Psyche’s properties
- 2022 – Launch of Psyche spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center, Florida
- 2023 – Mars Flyby of Psyche spacecraft
- 2026 – Psyche spacecraft arrives in asteroid’s orbit
- 2026-2027 – Psyche spacecraft orbits the Psyche asteroid
‘These lie unreachably far below the planets’ rocky mantles and crusts,’ NASA wrote on the Psyche project website.
‘Because we cannot see or measure Earth’s core directly, Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions that created terrestrial planets.’
The main objectives of the mission will see it examine the rocky asteroid to see how similar – or disimilar – it is to what we think the Earth’s core is like.
It will determine the relative ages of the regions of its surface, whether small metal bodies incorporate the light elements as expected int he Earth’s high-pressure core and whether it was formed under conditions similar to the Earth.
They will also map and characterise the topography of the metalic core fragment.
While the primary goal is to look at the core of Psyche 16, the payload being sent up by SpaceX will also include equipment for two other scientific missions.
One will see it examine the Martian atmosphere while it makes its flybe and another, called Janus will see it study binary asteroids.
It’s due to launch in 2022, make a flyby of Mars in 2023 and then begin orbiting Psyche 16 in 2026 to 2027.
THE METAL WORLD OF 16 PSYCHE
16 Psyche is located in the large asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and may have started as a planet, before it was partially destroyed during the formation of the solar system.
Now, it is a 130 mile (200km) wide chunk of metal, made up of iron, nickel and a number of other rare metals, including gold, platinum and copper.
As such, it offers a unique look into the violent collisions that created Earth and the terrestrial planets.
The mission team seeks to determine whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to Earth’s core, and what its surface is like.
The spacecraft’s instrument payload will include magnetometers, multispectral imagers, and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer.
Why are asteroids worth so much?
It may be 230 million miles (370 million km) away from Earth, but this asteroid could be worth a small fortune.
16 Psyche is one of the most mysterious objects in our solar system, and scientists could soon be getting a close-up view thanks to a newly confirmed Nasa mission.
If the asteroid could be transported back to Earth, the iron alone would be worth $10,000 quadrillion (£8,072 quadrillion).
It’s value would be large enough to destroy commodity prices and cause the world’s economy – worth $73.7 trillion (£59.5 trillion) – to collapse.
Dr Elkins-Tanton has calculated that the iron in 16 Psyche alone, would be worth $10,000 quadrillion (£8,072 quadrillion).
Assuming the market for asteroid materials is on Earth, this could cause the value of precious metals to plummet, completely devaluing all holdings including those of governments, and all companies involved in mining, distributing and trading such commodities.
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