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NASA will launch a probe to study 16 Psyche in 2023. Image: CBS News.

According to recent reports, NASA has been planning a mission to explore the gigantic asteroid ‘16 Psyche,’ comprised almost entirely of metal. The agency is planning to use an unmanned spacecraft.

This mission was one of the selected two for the new stage of NASA’s Discovery Program. The other one has to do with a particular probe that will travel to the planet Jupiter, called ‘Lucy.’

A team of researchers from the Arizona State University will develop the time plan to send a spacecraft into 16 Psyche, which is roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts. 16 Psyche’s metal composition is very strange which interests many scientists.

Mining the only all-metal asteroid so far on the Solar System

Some sources hint that NASA might want to discover a way to mine the asteroid’s metal resources. Estimates indicate that its iron content could be worth approximately $10,000 quadrillion in today’s market.

However, Carol Polanskey, the mission’s leading scientist, said they did not intend to bring back any quantity of foreign materials for industry. The mission only expects to learn more about planetary formation from the unknown asteroid.

16 Psyche is very far away from Earth. The research team plans to launch a probe somewhere in the year 2023, but the spacecraft would take roughly seven years to reach its destination and even more time to send data back to our planet.

16 Psyche facts and orbit

Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis first discovered the asteroid in 1852. He named it after the Greek mythological figure ‘psyche,’ which is a representation of the soul. The number comes from a notation scheme developed by German astronomer J. F. Encke.

16 Psyche is one of the ten largest asteroids in our nearby asteroid belt, a large formation of rocks that locates right after Mars and fills the void of space all the way until Jupiter. The celestial body is roughly 186 kilometers in diameter.

Scientists are paying a lot of attention to the asteroid’s particular metal frame. The rock is 99% iron and nickel, with tiny amounts of pyroxene. Psyche also contains some water, but astronomers believe it came from external colliding asteroids.

A popular theory among researchers is that 16 Psyche is nothing but the exposed core of an older planet that suffered many collisions with neighboring rocks. The asteroid does not belong to any ‘family’ of similar bodies, which is very strange.

16 Psyche takes approximately five years to orbit around the Sun.

Source: CBS News