Not too long ago, NASA asked Tesla's Elon Musk, who runs the rocket company SpaceX, to assist in a future space exploration mission of a giant metallic asteroid called "16 Psyche" that contains trillions of dollars in rare metals.
16 Psyche is one of the most massive objects in the asteroid belt orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. It measures 140 miles across, and in previous observations, it has been shown as a dense metallic core of a failed plant.
A new study, published Monday by Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist Dr. Tracy Becker, provides new insight into why NASA and Musk could be interested in this space rock that's more than 230 million miles from Earth. The reason: The asteroid is entirely comprised of iron and nickel.
Some believe the asteroid is valued at around $10,000 quadrillion. For comparisons, the global economy in 2019 was worth about $142 trillion. 16 Psyche is turning out to be an astronomical treasure trove of wealth for whoever seizes it.
"We've seen meteorites that are mostly metal, but Psyche could be unique in that it might be an asteroid that is totally made of iron and nickel," Becker said.
She continued: "Earth has a metal core, a mantle and crust. It's possible that as a Psyche protoplanet was forming, it was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust."
Becker's study comes as SpaceX and NASA prepare for an uncrewed mission to the asteroid in 2022, with the spacecraft landing on 16 Psyche in 2026.
What this all suggests is the NASA and private corporations are in the beginning stages to mine space.
A Reuters story from 2019 perfectly explains why Musk is interested in nickel-heavy 16 Psyche because he anticipated global shortages of the metal in the coming years.