NASA is closing in on the launch of an ambitious mission to probe an asteroid worth an estimated 10,000 quadrillion dollars.
The space rock 16-Psyche is twice as wide as Wales and is nestled in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Discovered in 1852, it was once known as the “golden asteroid” as scientists believed it was mostly composed of the precious metal. Subsequent observations, however, hint that Psyche is most likely made up of a mix of rock, iron and nickel.
This summer, NASA will embark on a mission to study the metal-rich object in an effort to determine its origins. It will be NASA’s first visit to a metallic asteroid.
After lifting off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the Psyche probe will arrive at its target in early 2026.It’s thought that the asteroid is the shattered core of a planetesimal – a small world the size of a city or small country.
The blobs of material are the first building blocks of planets and it’s thought they were plentiful in the early universe. If Psyche is a planetesimal, it can shed light on the interior of terrestrial planets like Earth.
The core of our own world is hidden beneath miles and miles of mantle and crust, making it nearly impossible to study. NASA’s spacecraft will use an array of instruments to investigate Psyche’s magnetic field, gravitational pull, surface makeup and more.
NASA says: “During 21 months in orbit, the spacecraft will map and study Psyche.”“The mission’s goal is, among other things, to determine whether Psyche is indeed the core of a planetesimal.”
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