A very rare metallic asteroid is hiding between Mars and Jupiter, and it’s worth more than the entire global economy, according to researchers and observers.
Recently, the Hubble Space Telescope gave researchers a closer look at the space object, worth an estimated $10,000 quadrillion according to the mission’s leader at Arizona State University, CBS reported.
A new study published in The Planetary Science Journal examines the asteroid ’16 Psyche’, which is one of the most massive objects in the solar system’s main asteroid belt. 16 Psyche orbits between Mars and Jupiter, about 230 million miles from the Earth. It measures about 140 miles in diameter — approximately the size of Massachusetts.
— CNN International (@cnni) October 31, 2020
Typically asteroids are made of rocks or ice. But what sets 16 Psyche apart is it’s mostly made out of metal, which the scientists believe is due to the leftover core of a planet that never succeeded in forming, or what’s called a “protoplanet.”
The study signifies the first ultraviolet (UV) observations of the metallic asteroid. New data reveals the asteroid may be made entirely of iron and nickel which is found in the solid centers of planets according to the scientists.
We’ve seen meteorites that are mostly metal, but Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of iron and nickel,” lead author Dr. Tracy Becker said in a statement. “Earth has a metal core, a mantle, and crust. It’s possible that as a Psyche protoplanet was forming, it was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust.”
Hubble’s ultraviolet observations are providing new, more complete views of the massive, metallic asteroid Psyche. Studying Psyche might help us learn more about the cores of planets! From @SwRI: https://t.co/tP9I58CV9G
(Image courtesy of Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech) pic.twitter.com/03DrkP06WW
— Hubble (@NASAHubble) October 26, 2020
Astronomers studied the asteroid at two key times during its rotation in order to view the aspects of both sides completely at UV wavelengths. They discovered the surface could be principally iron, however, they warned that even a small amount of iron would totally eclipse UV studies.
“We were able to identify for the first time on any asteroid what we think are iron oxide ultraviolet absorption bands,” Becker said. “This is an indication that oxidation is happening on the asteroid, which could be a result of the solar wind hitting the surface.”
Solar wind is the flow of charged particles from the sun’s upper atmosphere, called the corona, throughout the solar system. It’s responsible for the tails of comets as they soar across the sky, the formations of auroras, and the possible “space weathering” of Psyche.
Researchers said they need to further study the asteroid to determine its characteristics for sure.
“This is something that we need to study further,” Becker said. “This could be indicative of it being exposed in space for so long. This type of UV brightening is often attributed to space weathering.”
Metal asteroids are incredibly rare, so Psyche provides researchers with an impressive opportunity to examine the interior of a planet. In 2022, NASA discussed plans to launch the unmanned spacecraft Psyche on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to further understand the asteroid. This is an attempt bolster its history and that of similar objects. This is also a key experiment marking the first time a metallic asteroid has been reviewed.
The orbiter is set to land on the asteroid in January 2026 to analyze it for nearly two years.