NASA scientists are studying a large metallic asteroid that they think could be the molten core of a planet as large as Mars. Asteroid 16 Psyche, the object in question, revolves around the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.
According to the researchers, 16 Psyche was probably the outcome of a violent planetary collision that took place when the Solar System was still in its infancy. To delve deeper into the mysteries surrounding 16 Psyche, NASA now wants to send a probe to what is also being recognized as the largest metallic asteroid in our Solar System discovered yet.
In fact, this will be the first ever time when scientists will be exploring a world made almost entirely of metal. They are hoping that Psyche will help them learn a lot of previously unknown aspects of how the iron-nickel core of Earth was formed.
“If Psyche has a magnetic field then it was the molten core of a little planet that was stripped of its rocky exterior….Its original body might have been as small as Vesta, or as large as Mars,” said Linda Elkins-Tanton, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at the Arizona State University, via The Times.
Vesta happens to be the second-largest asteroid in the Solar System. It has a diameter of 326 miles. Compared to that, 16 Psyche has a diameter of 150 miles and is made almost entirely of nickel and iron. This could be the only object in the Earth’s cosmic vicinity that scientists will be able to experiment directly.
Currently under review by NASA, the proposed mission Psyche is likely to cost somewhere around $500 million. If all go as per plan, the probe will launch in November 2020 and arrive at 16 Psyche in 2026.