Recent data from the Hubble telescope suggest that a large, dense asteroid floating in the Milkway asteroid belt may actually be the core of a primary planet that was smashed and exposed billions of years ago. NASA plans to use the probe to visit the core of the possible planet, reach it as early as 2026, and observe it in orbit for nearly two years.
The Hubble telescope recently spent time observing an asteroid of particular interest to the scientific community, located outside the Milky Way asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. What’s new about this space rock is its huge size, about the length of Massachusetts, and its rich composition of metal and silicate rocks.
Originally discovered in 1852 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis, the asteroid is the 16th ever observed and has been named “16 Psyche”. It was later determined that it consisted mainly of nickel and iron. This composition makes the rocks on the planet extremely dense and is thought to contain an astonishing 1% of the mass of the entire asteroid belt.
The asteroid’s value is assessed solely by raw materials, which is about $1.4 trillion, based on the current mineral market value on Earth.
The researchers were also interested in the similarities between 16 Psyche and the Earth’s core. Preliminary assumptions based on Hubble data suggest that this may be the core of a recently exposed original planet that split in the solar system billions of years ago. Theories about how the core was exposed vary from one more data to another, but suggest that it may have been the result of a large impact a long time ago, or of multiple impacts over a long period of time.
NASA began the program as early as 2017, with the 16 Psyche exploration mission scheduled to take off in 2022 and begin orbiting the metal space rock for 21 months in 2026.