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NASA shares amazing discoveries capturing asteroid worth $10,000,000,000,000,000,000 will enable

NASA shares amazing discoveries capturing asteroid worth $10,000,000,000,000,000,000 will enable

NASA's mission to the 16 Psyche asteroid could be key to our understanding of our own planet

NASA has explained what the $10,000 quadrillion asteroid its hoping to reach could reveal about Earth.

On October 13, 2023, NASA Discovery Program space mission Psyche's spacecraft launched from from its Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Since then, the vessel has been making its way across a whopping 2.2 billion miles (3.5 billion km) journey at a speed of approximately 84,000mph through space to reach an asteroid called 16 Psyche - orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter - and should the journey prove successful, NASA has highlighted some of the most exciting discoveries which could be in store.

As per an update released by NASA on May 22, 2024, Psyche spacecraft 'passed' it's six-month check-up with 'a clean bill of health'.

"Navigators are firing its futuristic-looking electric thrusters, which emit a blue glow, nearly nonstop as the orbiter zips farther into deep space," it added.

But what is this deep space mission all really for?

Psyche spacecraft launch (Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via Getty Images)
Psyche spacecraft launch (Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via Getty Images)

What Psyche could tell us about Earth

Well, if Psyche reaches 16 Psyche successfully, NASA could potentially gain a unique insight into our own planet.

Yes, Earth, because 16 Psyche is anticipated as having a metallic core composition similar to that of Earth's - containing both nickel and iron, 'the building blocks of our solar system'.

As NASA's website explains: "Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets - including Earth - scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie unreachably far below the planets' rocky mantles and crusts.

"Because we cannot see or measure Earth's core directly, Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets."

However, if this isn't the case, there's still another exciting discovery to be made.

A model of metal-rich asteroid Psyche (CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
A model of metal-rich asteroid Psyche (CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Another theory of what Psyche could be made of

During a press briefing on 10 October, 2023, Psyche's principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton explained the kind of material 16 Psyche is suspected as being made of is 'a kind of material that's been hypothesized by planetary scientists for a long time, but we haven't actually found any before'.

The hypothesis? 16 Psyche is 'formed of the very first materials in the solar system that came together under gravity', the materials having formed close to the Sun, before the materials' oxygen and iron atoms split apart and the iron atoms turned into their metal form.

Deputy principal investigator of the Psyche mission, Ben Weiss, explained this would make 16 Psyche 'a king of primordial unmelted body'.

Weiss added: "Psyche today is long frozen, but if it formed as a metallic core in the early solar system, it was once a molten body and has been cooling really quickly and potentially generating a magnetic field.

"That magnetic field could be imprinted in the outer layers of Psyche's cold exterior as a kind of echo or fossil that we could then detect today."

The mission will also reveal developments within NASA's own technology.

The DSOC (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The DSOC (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Testing new technology

The Psyche mission is testing the next generation laser communications by transmitting data back to Earth using the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC).

If the test proves successful, it means NASA will be able to use DSOC on future missions and 'increase bandwidth to transmit more complex science data and even stream video from Mars'.

Featured Image Credit: Getty Stock/ CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Topics: NASA, Space, Technology, Science