NASA has embarked on a groundbreaking mission to explore one of the Solar System’s most intriguing celestial bodies. The spacecraft, named Psyche, is set to investigate an asteroid, also known as 16 Psyche, believed to be composed of approximately 60% iron and nickel. This unique asteroid is theorized to be the leftover core of a proto-planet that lost its rocky exterior.
The spacecraft’s journey began from Cape Canaveral, Florida, propelled by a Falcon-Heavy rocket. This ambitious voyage will span six years and cover a distance of 2.2 billion miles, leading the probe to a region between Mars and Jupiter.
Out of the vast number of asteroids in the Solar System, only a handful exhibit characteristics similar to Psyche, with this particular asteroid being the largest, measuring around 175 miles at its broadest dimension. Over time, metallic entities in space, due to frequent collisions with high-velocity micrometeoroids, are believed to adopt a jagged appearance. Such impacts might have resulted in a metallic sand layer enveloping Psyche.
While the asteroid’s primary composition is iron and nickel, telescopic studies have identified other elements, possibly including greenish-yellow, sulfur-rich stones. A peculiar aspect of Psyche could be metal cliffs that emerged as the asteroid cooled, contracted, and fractured throughout the Solar System’s 4.6-billion-year history.
Ben Weiss, the mission’s Deputy Principal Investigator, highlighted two prevailing theories regarding Psyche’s origin. Metal meteorites, similar in composition to Psyche, occasionally land on Earth, sparking speculation about the potential of space mining. If exploited, resources like Psyche could have a value in the trillions.
However, Dr. Helena Bates from London’s Natural History Museum offers a different perspective. She believes the true potential of asteroid mining lies in its ability to further space exploration. By harnessing materials from near-Earth asteroids to produce fuel, spacecraft could embark on more extended missions, revolutionizing the future of space travel.