Besides Earth, Venus, Mars and Mercury, our solar system may have another rocky planet if not for a cataclysmic collision in space billions of years ago.
It is a failed earth, its incompletenessu evolved into a planet, which became an asteroid. But not in any asteroid. 16 Psyche is one of the most interesting and intriguing rocky bodies in the Solar System Not just because of all that its interiors reveal about how Earth-like worlds came to be, or because our planet is suspected of having a magnetic field that would allow life to exist: Contains large amounts of metals Using such a space rock to extract minerals would become a real mine. For all this, NASA is going to launch a spacecraft in October to take a closer look at this enigmatic object.
“We think the metal concentration could be as high as 60%,” the Spanish physicist says in a telephone interview JOSEPH MG MERAYOResearcher of Technical University of Denmark For three decades and a leader in the development of one of the main scientific instruments carried by the spacecraft, also known as Psyche (ie Alma in Greek). specific, Your team provides a magnetometer that maps the magnetic field This asteroid orbits the Sun between Jupiter and Mars.
The magnetic field, “is very important, because without it there would be no life on Earth, because it acts as a shield. All planets are exposed to the solar wind, which is called wind because it constantly blows and concentrates high-density particles of energy, which we call plasma, and that plasma is the Earth’s If not protected by a magnetic field, it is very dangerous, but The magnetic field prevents this radiation from reaching the Earth.“.
Two other instruments on board will help determine its chemical composition, its mineral composition and its topography. “This is the first time that an asteroid with a high metal concentration and which appears to form a planet has been observed. “It was rocky but because of a collision it became an asteroid,” he summarizes.
Because of its shape and high mineral content, Merao He compares it to “a metal potato.” It is believed that the Earth’s core is composed primarily of iron (Fe) and nickel (Ni), and they are also believed to be the basic materials of the mind. But no spacecraft has ever flown over this asteroid and they learned about its properties and shape, above all, thanks to observations made through telescopes.
“For example, by studying how light reflects off an asteroid we can infer some of its surface properties, and by studying meteorites that have fallen to Earth, models are created that allow us to estimate their composition, mass, and size. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida This member of the mission watching the ship’s launch explains.The departure, originally scheduled for October 5, has been delayed to October 12. If all goes well, the $1.2 billion ship will Coming to Psyche in 2029 and examine it for at least 26 months.
Through this type of analysis, at a distance, both direct and indirect, they were able to estimate that “it has an average diameter of about 222 kilometers and that it is not spherical and, unlike other asteroids, has non-symmetrical geometrical properties. Its metal concentration is high, and there are non-metallic asteroids. ” says Merayo.
And the planetary geologist explains Jesus Martinez-FriasResearcher Geo (CSIC-UCM) and head of the Meteorites and Planetary Geosciences Research Group, “Meteorites have different compositions. Metals are rarer than the perfect silicate chondritic type.”
One of the main questions they want to answer in this space mission is how this body formed: “We know it happened 4.5 billion years ago. The rocky planets of the Solar System (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are closest to the Sun, between 0 and 1 astronomical unit (one astronomical unit equals 150 million kilometers). On the other hand, the gas planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) are further away. In the middle, between Mars and Jupiter, is the asteroid belt, so why not a planet? Psyche is thought to form as a planet, which has a liquid core at high pressure and temperature, similar to what happens on Earth, with a surrounding layer covering it,” Meraio explains.
Remember that the Earth’s radius is “6,300 kilometers, of which the core occupies about 3,000 km. Between the 3,000 km and the surface, there is a mantle that isolates the core. The mind may have evolved like the Earth, but on a smaller scale.
Then why didn’t it become a planet? “We believe that there was a strong collision that ripped the outer part of the crust and exposed the core into space.. As it exposed, it cooled until it solidified. We know that there are high concentrations of iron and nickel in the Earth’s core, and it is thought that Psyche may also contain them when exposed to space. This is a big advantage, because the core cannot be reached to study its composition directly on Earth,” explains the physicist from the Technical University of Denmark.
According to NASA, the percentages of metal content that Psyche can hold range from 30 to 60%, says Martínez-Frias “only estimates, but yes 16 Soul is considered to have great wealth The combination of iron and nickel can be associated in a composite way with many other metallic elements. A smaller proportion has also been found to contain pyroxene-type silicates,” says the researcher, who was not part of the work.
What could they be? “Gold, platinum group elements, silver etc. are possible and expected.” However, he clarifies that “what we can say about it is highly speculative and based on our knowledge of mineralogical and geochemical associations.” However, he posits that “if these geochemical and cosmochemical models work for iron-nickel, they may be correlated with these other elements.”
And because there can always be surprises, remember this planetary geologist, last year’s name Immediately For a new mineral found in a meteorite. The name is in honor of planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tandon, principal investigator of the Psych mission.
Interestingly, this type of metallic potato, an object that Meraio defines as a “single body”, is one of the first asteroids discovered in the history of astronomy, number 16, hence its name. It was founded in 1852 by the Italian Annibale de Casparis: “He discovered it because it’s one of the largest asteroids in our solar system’s asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter, but he didn’t know it was a special body.”
16 How common are asteroids with high concentrations of metals like Cyc? “After planetary bodies grew by accretion, the denser part moved to the core, and the rest, usually silicates, formed mantles and crusts (at least that’s the model for planets. and terrestrial-type bodies).16 Psychology is so special, in fact, that many teachers don’t consider it an asteroid for one, This indicates that it may not be a complete object, but rather the core of a larger object, which has lost its outer envelope, perhaps due to collisional processes. That means it could be a remnant of a much different material,” says Martinez-Frias.
If Soul 16 was indeed a planet, its study would be a way to “better understand the impact and differentiation processes of the origin of the Solar System, a kind of journey into the past,” says Martínez-Frías. “Furthermore, thanks to the direct synthesis data provided to us by analyzing seismic waves and 16 soul, it will allow us to carry out a comparative planetography between what we know implicitly about the composition of the interior (embryo) of our planet. .”
Although NASA insists that Your goal in traveling to Psyche is not to mine asteroids, but there are speculations about the value of the minerals it contains to explore what this body is made of and to try to better understand the solar system. Psyche’s own principal investigator, Lindy Elkins-Daunton, estimated a few years ago that all these minerals were worth $10 trillion on Earth. This was an unrealistic estimate, as she later pointed out The New York Times, But it gives an idea of the large amount of metal present in this body.
As Meraio clarifies, “Even if we assume that all the metals of Psyche have that value, we can transport the minerals we want to extract to Earth, which will be very expensive. And the market value will be different if these minerals arrive on Earth in a certain amount. If gold is very expensive. , it’s because there’s a shortage, and the price is much lower if it’s in large quantities,” he says contextually.
Besides, “Although only 1% of the minerals on this asteroid are rare minerals, it is a significant amount, But it costs more to extract from iron and nickel,” explains the researcher, noting that Psyche and Earth orbit the Sun at a distance from Earth of two astronomical units to four astronomical units. At different speeds (each astronomical unit is 150 million km).
Any economic estimate of the potential value that this asteroid’s minerals could achieve on Earth is not reliable or realistic, if they are available in large quantities, for the rest of the reasons, we asked this Spanish scientist. 16 Let’s calculate how much metal the soul contains if its composition is 60% metal.
“If it had the same ratio of metals as the Earth’s core, it would contain 10×10^18 kg of iron (10 followed by 18 zeros!). There will be about 10 trillion kg of iron; “Nickel will be less than 1 trillion kg, and 1 trillion kg of other minerals,” Meraio summarizes.
Although NASA is not going to mine this asteroid, it already is There are companies in different countries The focus is on developing technologies that will allow the extraction of minerals from these rocks in the future. Regarding this possibility, Martínez-Frías emphasizes, “There are still many challenges to achieve it. We will start normally on the Moon with ISRUs. [utilización de recursos espaciales in situ] And, little by little, we’ll make progress.”
The president of the Spanish Planetology and Astrobiology Network also recalled that in 2015 it was Barack Obama who promoted research in asteroid mining. Pass a controversial law It allowed American citizens to mine, sell, and buy materials found in space, encouraging companies that were already investing in developing technology that would allow them to extract minerals from other bodies in the future. But as highlighted, “The challenges are not only scientific and engineering, but also ethical and legal Regarding the renewal of the Outer Space Treaty.” The regulation came into force in 1967 and includes principles governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space. “We are solving this problem through lunar and planetary geography,” he says. “We are developing codes of conduct and codes of good practice.”