16 Psyche is an M-type asteroid residing in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. In other words… it is one of the ten most massive asteroids in the belt, over 120 miles (200km) in diameter, and the most massive known M-type asteroid. Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis discovered this cool space rock in March 1852 in Naples and named it after the Greek mythological figure symbolizing the Breath of Life and of Soul, commonly known as Cupid’s better half. As was the case with the first fifteen asteroids discovered to assist with shorthand notation during observations, Psyche was given the symbol , a semicircle dotted with a star meant to symbolize the soul (Psyche in Greek translates to soul). Little did they know at the time how many more rocks were out there.
Psyche’s formation may have occurred in the early days of the Solar System, possibly once belonging to a larger body which fragmented and deteriorated over time. Current hypotheses paint Psyche as an exposed metallic core or a fragment from a parent body around 500 km in diameter, though scientists have yet to identify whether Psyche belongs to an asteroid family with similar orbital elements such as eccentricity and inclination.
16 Psyche is unlike any body thus discovered in our Solar System, being the only nearly entirely metallic core-like body ever found (so far). Understanding its structure would result in invaluably unique information on asteroid bodies, their formations, and the possibility of what else might exist in the Cosmos. The metal world’s potential value is estimated at $10,000 QUADRILLION, which could completely shatter the Earth’s $74 Trillion economy in the event of a successful extraction.
An optimist would hope that such vast supply of resources could usher in a new era of space exploration, one characterized by a booming international race to develop the greatest technology and manpower to extract these seemingly infinite resources, offering our planet and civilization a level of prosperity only envisioned in the realm of science fiction. Psyche remains the first of its kinds, but its certainly not a far stretch of the imagination to suggest others like it exist. Where Psyche is composed of iron and nickel, perhaps an asteroid full of diamonds, gold, or some other precious mineral might be floating out there.
Artist’s concept of the asteroid 16 Psyche, which is thought to be a stripped planetary core. Image credit: SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech
To date, no spacecraft has been sent to Psyche, though several missions have been proposed to NASA, including a robotic orbiter concept presented by Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. NASA approved the mission in 2017, with a target launch in 2022 and arrival to the asteroid in 2026 following a Martian gravity assist in 2023.A post-scarcity economy like the one imagined on Star Trek might be possible, vaulting humankind into the next stages of civilization, and getting me one step closer to my own personal space ship!