The gilded rock lurking about 370150000km from Earth - between Mars and Jupiter - is in the news again.
Psyche 16 is believed to be the core of a failed planet. And its guts are nothing short of remarkable.
Estimated to be just shy of Tasmanian size, the asteroid has been scanned by the Hubble Telescope and the new findings show 27,200,000,000,000,000 (that's 27 quadrillion 2 hundred trillion) tonnes of iron and nickel.
That's $10,000,000,000,000,000,000 - more than the entire global economy says a new study published in The Planetary Science Journal exposed the secrets of Psyche 16.
The study marks the first ultraviolet (UV) observations of the celestial object. New data reveals the asteroid may be made entirely of iron and nickel — found in the dense cores of planets. Most asteroids consist of rock or ice, but this valuable asteroid is not run-of-the-mill.
Baby planet's that never become true planets are called 'Protoplanets'. And Psyche 16 ticks all the boxes.
“We’ve seen meteorites that are mostly metal, but Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of iron and nickel,” said lead author Dr Tracy Becker.
Protoplanets usually have a mantle around their precious metals. However, Psyche 16's mantle has been removed. Perhaps by collisions with other space objects.
"It is possible that as a Psyche protoplanet was forming, it was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust," she added.
The team used ultraviolet observations to expose the makeup of the failed planet's core.
"We were able to identify for the first time on any asteroid what we think are iron oxide ultraviolet absorption bands," Becker said. "This is an indication that oxidation is happening on the asteroid, which could be a result of the solar wind hitting the surface."
To summarise what the good Dr means, the asteroid looks like its rusting away from charged particles zooming out from our sun's upper atmosphere or "corona".
The UV waves revealed another intriguing dimension of the asteroid: an indication of its age.
"This is something that we need to study further," Becker said. "This could be indicative of it being exposed in space for so long. This type of UV brightening is often attributed to space weathering."
The nature of Psyche 16 is too much to ignore. So, in 2022, NASA is sending a probe to the richest known space rock to study it. This will mark the first time we've encountered an asteroid made entirely of metal.
Thanks to the size of the Solar System, the probe won't reach Psyche 16 until January 2026. But it will make the most of it and hang out there for nearly two years - providing samples and data.
The principle interest in PSyche 16 is not the worldly value. Rather, the materials it's made of.
"What makes Psyche and the other asteroids so interesting is that they're considered to be the building blocks of the solar system," Becker said. "To understand what really makes up a planet and to potentially see the inside of a planet is fascinating. Once we get to Psyche, we're really going to understand if that's the case, even if it doesn't turn out as we expect. Any time there's a surprise, it's always exciting."
The researchers maintain the value of the asteroid is not monetary. And that no sample returning to Earth will be squandered.
"We're going to learn about planetary formation, but we are not going to be trying to bring any of this material back and using it for industry," said Carol Polanskey, project scientist for the Psyche mission.