Though Mars gets a lot of the attention, there are still a ton of fascinating missions just begging for a green light in the rest of our solar system — and here’s the shiniest one of all.
NASA has announced plans to send a probe to 16 Psyche, a giant metal asteroid located in the asteroid belt. The asteroid measures just 130 miles in diameter and looks to be comprised almost entirely of iron and nickel (like the Earth’s core). This is extremely rare, because most asteroids are made or rock and ice. Scientists believe the asteroid could potentially be the exposed core of an early planet that lost its rocky surface after getting battered by asteroid billions of years ago. Researchers believe the mission could help shed some light on how planets separated into layers during their early formation.
“This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world – not one of rock or ice, but of metal,” Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton said. “16 Psyche is the only known object of its kind in the solar system, and this is the only way humans will ever visit a core. We learn about inner space by visiting outer space.”
The robotic mission is targeted to launch in October 2023, and it will take seven years to reach 16 Psyche (it’s located about three times farther from the sun than the Earth is). So, yeah, mark your calendars for 2030 or so. If all goes as planned, NASA could be exploring the dead core of a former planet in about a decade and a half. If we’re not on Mars by then, this can at least be a very cool consolation prize.