heavy metal

Why Psyche is worth so much more than just cash

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You might have heard about a certain space rock that is orbiting in the asteroid belt carrying $10,000-quadrillion-worth of iron. That’s a 1 followed by 19 zeros.

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This asteroid is called 16 Psyche, and at about 140 miles wide (the length of Massachusetts), it’s one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.

But Psyche is worth so much more than just the monetary value of its iron, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University, told Inverse.

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That’s because Psyche appears to be an exposed core of an ancient protoplanet.

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Elkins-Tanton is also the principal investigator for NASA’s upcoming mission also called Psyche, to send a spacecraft to the metallic asteroid up close.

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Psyche is made of primarily nickel and iron metal. It is one of the rare metal asteroids in the Solar System.

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Planetary cores can tell us a lot about planetary formation.

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But rocky planet cores are too far below their surfaces — 1800 miles down in the case of Earth — so we’ll likely never be able to observe them directly.

Enter Psyche.

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Scientists think that Psyche was evolving into a planet when one or multiple objects smashed into it, stripping away its primitive mantle and crust.

And we’re headed there this decade. The Psyche spacecraft is slated to launch in 2022.

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“Space exploration is for all of humanity, to inspire us to be bolder and more effective in our own lives, here on Earth,” Elkins-Tanton says.

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“If we can build a robot that will fly through space and discover new worlds for us, then we can solve our problems here at home, as well.”

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Read more space stories here.

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