The Hubble Space Telescope discovered an asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter called 16 Psyche. The asteroid is approximately 230 million miles from Earth and is 140 miles across. Those dimensions make the asteroid roughly the size of West Virginia.
What makes 16 Psyche so special isn’t its size or distance from Earth. Rather it’s that the asteroid appears to be made of heavy and immensely valuable metals. NASA says that the asteroid isn’t rocky or icy like most in the asteroid belt. Rather it’s almost entirely metal, just like the core of the Earth. NASA says it’s not the only asteroid with metal content, but 16 Psyche could be completely made from iron and nickel.
Estimates are that given the asteroid’s size and its metal content, it could be worth $10,000 quadrillion dollars. That’s too many zeros for most to put into perspective. That figure is about 10,000 times the entire global economy in 2019. Researchers harnessed the ultraviolet spectrum data captured by Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph during observations in 2017 to determine that Psyche 16’s surface could be mostly pure iron.
They do recognize that the presence of an iron composition as little as 10 percent could dominate ultraviolet observations. NASA is planning a mission called Discovery Mission Psyche that’s expected to launch in 2022 using a Falcon Heavy rocket. The mission’s goal is to discover more about the asteroid, including its metal content, when probe arrives in orbit in 2026.
Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the lead scientist on the NASA mission, said in 2017 that 16 Psyche is the only known object of its kind in the solar system. It’s also the only way humans will ever visit a planetary core. She said that scientists could learn about inner space by visiting outer space as the asteroid is believed to be the core of a planet that failed during the early formation of the solar system.