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August 2, 2021
PHOTO CREDITS: NASA
According to Forbes, a new study conducted by the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a clearer picture than ever before of the most valuable asteroid ever discovered — with a projected worth of about $10,000 quadrillion.
The asteroid, called the “16 Psyche,” is about 230-370 million kilometers away from Earth in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Unlike all other asteroids in this region, which are rocky, ’16 Psyche’ is metallic. Experts project that the metal that makes up Psyche could be worth around $10,000 quadrillion, a worth much greater than the global economy, which was worth about $142 Trillion in 2019.
Astrophysicists and planetary scientists say the asteroid may be the remains of the core of a planet that failed during its formation – a “protoplanet”. “We’ve seen asteroids that are mostly metal, but Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of Iron and Nickel,” said Dr. Tracy Becker, a planetary scientist in S.R. Institute, Texas. Earth’s inner solid core is too made up of similar kinds of material, that is Iron, Nickel, and Cobalt.
One projection is that it could be a “dead core” of a planet that could have existed in our solar system. “We were able to identify for the first time on any astroid what we think are Iron Oxide ultraviolet absorption bands,” said Becker. “This is an indication that oxidation is happening on the asteroid, which could be a result of solar wind hitting the surface.”
The presence of even a small amount of Iron could dominate U.V. observations, and in practice, it could be that 10% of the surface is actually iron. However, while observing Psyche, the asteroid appeared increasingly reflective at deeper U.V. wavelengths. “This is something that we need to study further”, said Becker, as this type of U.V. brightening is often attributed to space weathering. However, Becker’s paper makes it very clear that it’s tricky to quantify the amount of Iron. NASA’s Psyche mission is part of its Discovery program of low-cost robotic space missions. The orbiter is due to arrive at Psyche in January 2026 to begin at least 21 months in orbit mapping and studying the surface properties.
“To understand what really makes up a planet and to potentially see the inside of a planet is fascinating,” said Becker, who describes Psyche and other asteroids as the building blocks of the solar system. “Once we get to Psyche, we’re really going to understand if that’s the case, even if it doesn’t turn out as we expect… anytime there’s a surprise, it’s always exciting,” he added.
ARTICLE: PATEL CHAITANYA
EDITOR: KYLE SMITH