NASA has announced a pair of new space missions called “Lucy” and “Psyche,” the latter of which will investigate a never-before-studied asteroid that may be composed almost entirely of nickel and iron. That asteroid — described as being giant in size as well as heavily metallic — is named 16 Psyche, and is thought to have a composition not unlike that of the Earth’s core.
Given its large diameter of about 130 miles and its unique metallic composition, researchers are intrigued about whether the asteroid is in fact an exposed core of a long-gone ‘early’ planet. If so, its size indicates the planet would have been about the size of present-day Mars.
Assuming their speculation is correct, investigating the asteroid could lend insight into things like the core and how eventual outer layers form on planets early in their life. NASA describes the Psyche mission as also being robotic in nature, but it’ll be a while before we get any updates about it — NASA doesn’t plan for it to start until the year 2023.
In addition to the Psyche mission, NASA has also announced another mission called “Lucy,” which will look into the environment of the Trojan asteroids near Jupiter. This mission will launch in 2021, but won’t reach its destination until the year 2025, where it will then explore a total of six asteroids from 2027 to 2033.