If The Beatles taught us one thing it’s that all we need is love. A pretty close second thing we need, however, is enough money to make everyone in the world a billionaire many times over. Incredibly, something exists that could actually make that a reality: Psyche 16, a totally metal asteroid that Bloomberg says is worth $700 quintillion. Or at least $140 quintillion, as scientists have now confirmed the asteroid’s at least 20% metal.
DesignTAXI picked up on the new look at Psyche 16, which comes as one of the latest steps toward actually visiting the precious space rock. NASA plans to send a probe to the asteroid in 2022, which would arrive in 2026. That’s a surprisingly short period of time considering Psyche 16 is hundreds of millions of miles from Earth. Although it will get a “gravity assist” from Mars.
To better understand Psyche 16’s size, spin, shape, reflectivity, and roughness, researchers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope (or ALMA) in Chile to image the asteroid thermally. They also used ALMA to study any polarized light bouncing off its surface. (Polarized light waves have vibrating electric charges that occur on a single plane versus a variety of planes. More on that here.)
In a study published in The Planetary Science Journal, the researchers say the data shows Psyche 16 is at least 20% metal. And it may even have a much higher metal content. However, paradoxically, the researchers found Psyche 16 doesn’t emit the kind of polarized light a highly metallic body should. The researchers now think this must mean that metal-rich asteroids produce less polarized emissions than metal-poor ones do. It’s a direct contradiction of what they would’ve expected.
That scientific conundrum aside, this discovery obviously helps bolster excitement for the mission. (An overview of which is in the above video.) Although we shouldn’t all start counting our billies quite yet. The NASA probe only aims to collect more data from the asteroid. That includes measurements of its gravity and potential electromagnetic fields, as well as if it is indeed the core of a planet-sized object.