16 Psyche is a giant metal asteroid, about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth. Its average diameter is about 140 miles (226 kilometers) — about one-sixteenth the diameter of Earth’s Moon. Unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, scientists think the M-type (metallic) asteroid 16 Psyche is comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel similar to Earth’s core. Scientists wonder whether Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet, maybe as large as Mars, that lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.
The Psyche mission will be the first mission to investigate a world of metal rather than of rock and ice. Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets—including Earth—scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie unreachable below planets' rocky mantles and crusts. Because scientists cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets.
The value of all the nickel and iron that scientists believe make up 16 Psyche’s potato-shaped asteroid in the outer reaches of the asteroid belt totals some $10,000 quadrillion.
Asteroid made entirely of metal is the subject of a future NASA mission that may allow us to understand more about the Earth’s core and how planets formed. 16 Psyche is a massive asteroid that is particularly interesting due to its metallic composition, which has caused some people to speculate about its potential value.
16 Psyche will allow humans their first shot at exploring a world made of iron rather than ice or rock if NASA succeeds. The mission was originally set to begin in 2023, but now the agency is planning on starting in 2022 and making contact in 2026.
The potential importance of the 16 Psyche mission will also affect the future of space mining — something we are likely to see in the future, especially if we have a colony on Mars. Last year, a former NASA researcher presented a report declaring that space mining is possible with technologies we have right now, and that we will see it within a few decades. Luxembourg has already established a space mining fund. Given the extreme distances in space, it seems likely that we will depend on our ability to mine resources in space as we travel further from Earth — and an exciting experience on 16 Psyche may be what the majority of humanity needs to be convinced that space mining is possible.