Psyche’s iron alone is thought to be worth a mind-boggling £8,000 quadrillion
A giant asteroid known as 16 Psyche contains enough precious heavy metals to make everyone on Earth a billionaire.
The asteroid, which is about 140 miles wide and orbits the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, is the target of a NASA mission launching in 2022.
The mission aims to determine whether the asteroid is the exposed core of a former planet – something that could reveal how the Earth was formed, and may one day die.
“Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets – including Earth – scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie unreachable below planets’ rocky mantles and crusts,” NASA says.
“Because scientists 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.”
But Psyche isn’t just a subject of scientific interest.
It has also caught the attention of space mining companies, which hope to one day tap the asteroid’s rich reserves of gold, iron and nickel.
It is estimated that Psyche’s iron alone is worth a mind-boggling £8,000 quadrillion. A quadrillion is 1 with 15 noughts after it.
If you brought it back and shared out the profits equally, it would make all seven billion people on Earth billionaires overnight.
Sadly, it’s an economic impossibility. The world economy is worth £59.9 trillion, so injecting several quadrillion into it would cause the whole thing to come crashing down.
However, that hasn’t stopped some businesses earmarking space mining as the next big investment opportunity.
“Once you set up the infrastructure then the possibilities are almost infinite,” Mitch Hunter-Scullion, founder of the UK-based Asteroid Mining Company, told the BBC last year .
“There’s an astronomical amount of money to be made by those bold enough to rise to the challenge of the asteroid rush.”
16 Psyche isn’t the only asteroid that space mining companies have their eyes on.
Asteroid UW-158, which is twice the size of the Tower of London, is thought to have a 90 million tonne core of platinum, worth around £3 trillion.
However, some scientists have warned that the push to start mining in space could pose a major threat to the future of life on Earth.
Researchers claim that, unless we preserve our solar system from industrial exploitation, we risk permanently using up all of the resources within human reach within 400 years.
At that point, humanity would have only 60 years to rein in mining activity to avoid exhausting the supply completely.
Martin Elvis, a senior astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, warns that the implications for humanity’s future could be catastrophic.
“If we don’t think about this now, we will go ahead as we always have, and in a few hundred years we will face an extreme crisis, much worse than we have on Earth now,” Elvis told The Guardian .
“Once you’ve exploited the solar system, there’s nowhere left to go.”
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