Just when solar system mysteries like water on Mars and the tilt in Uranus whet your appetite, another spicy space meatball emerges to sink your astronomical teeth into.
Lick your chops at the thought of an asteroid almost as wide as the drive from Sydney to Canberra that's made almost entirely of precious metals.
Metals that, according to Bloomberg, are worth $700 quintillion US. We have no idea what that is in Aussie dollarydoos, but we know it's more than a quintillion. And that number is many billion times greater than all of the money in the world.
The composition of this massively valuable asteroid named 16 Psyche is 95% iron and nickel, with the remainder likely being gold and platinum. Even a measly 5% of this hefty fella is about a 7km round ball of gold and platinum.
It's many billion times more valuable than all of the money in the world today. pic.twitter.com/ShIJseLmvb— cosmic database 🧬 (@cosmicdatabase) November 18, 2019
As we said, the big ball of awesome is worth upwards of $700 quintillion, which, in numeric terms, is 700,000,000,000,000,000,000. To get some type of context for this number, it is enough to give our 8 billion population of Earthlings $93 billion each. And yes, armchair economists out there, we know that flooding the market with all this metal would drive the price down. This is an estimate on the price of the asteroid in its entirety, not market value.
However, even this hinges on two pretty substantial asterisks.
1. Psyche 16 would be worth that much to us humans if it was actually on Earth. But the likelihood of us towing the asteroid 515,707,796km from its orbital path between Mars and Jupiter is about 1 in a quintillion.
Okay. Not really that exact number, it was simply too hard to resist using "quintillion" again. The point being it is ridiculous.
2. Mining it from space and dragging the metals back to Earth is simple, but nowhere near easy. Consider the time, resources, manpower, technology needed to rip apart the hardened core in the freezing vacuum of space and then lug it over half a billion clicks back to Earth.
For even more added context, 16 Psyche makes up 1% of the entire asteroid belt which houses 1.9 million asteroids almost a million kilometres apart. This bulky fella is 1% of that enormity.
An actual shot of 16 Psyche from ESO/LAM
What makes the asteroid so unique isn't particularly its size, but the size of it in terms of its composition. There are larger asteroids out there, but they are mostly gaseous, compacted dustballs with a surface of ice holding it all together.
The real story of the expensive space orb is its potential to be a former protoplanet's core. A protoplanet is a large body of matter orbiting a sun or star in the midst of building mass into a planet.
We aren't sure how or why its mantle and crust were stripped away leaving the hardened sphere, but it creates an unmissable opportunity to study planetary cores, even shedding light on our own.
The enticement is too great to ignore and NASA are planning a Psyche mission, called The Psyche Mission, to probe the ball. The launch is expected sometime next year with probe arrival due at the asteroid in the year 2026. It's 515,707,796km away, remember.
Check out a brief of the mission outline below.
Given President Trump's recent stance on space mining being fair game, do you think it's worth attempting to mine space objects?
Let us know on our social media channels and help spread ARSE as we thrust into the deep unknown.