16 Psyche: The asteroid that could make every person on Earth a billionaire

Could 16 Psyche make every person on Earth a billionaire? The space mining race is heating up.

16 Psyche: The asteroid that could make every person on Earth a billionaire

16 Psyche

Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • 16 Psyche is an asteroid full of metal in the asteroid belt that could be worth $700 quintillion.
  • NASA plans to visit 16 Psyche by 2026.
  • Commercial mining of faraway asteroids could still be decades away and some set closer targets, like the moon.


Would you like to be a billionaire? All you have to do is figure out how to go into space and mine 16 Psyche, an asteroid made of gold and other metals like iron and nickel. Flying somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, this amazing space rock is estimated to be worth as much as $700 quintillion, thanks to all the metals it contains.

Quintillion, if you are wondering, is 1 with 18 zeroes. It's such a large amount of money that if you divide it up between everyone alive on Earth currently, each person would get about $93 billion.

Of course, don't pack your bags for your new palace just yet – the prospect of actually getting such a giant chunk of precious metals back to Earth is difficult and hasn't been accomplished yet even on much smaller scales. And 16 Psyche is a truly massive space rock at over 200 km (120 mi) in diameter. It is one of the largest asteroids flying in the asteroid belt.

Experts, like Professor Zarnecki of the Royal Astronomical Society, conjecture we may be up to 50 years away from being able to carry out commercial mining operations of that size. To start things off, NASA is planning to send a Discovery Mission to the asteroid in 2022, which will arrive there by 2026.

Some skeptics also don't believe the asteroid is as full of expensive things as we think, with Peter Schiff of Euro Pacific Capital tweeting that 16 Psyche may just be "made almost entirely of an iron-nickel alloy, with small amounts of other metals, likely to include gold." He thinks the news about the asteroid are just out there to help bitcoin, which would benefit from the price of gold going down.

There are also other questions to consider – if it really is so full of gold and other riches, the asteroid could actually crash Earth's economy, which at $75.5 trillion is a pittance against the amount of money one could get from the asteroid.

Artist's conceptual drawing of the Psyche spacecraft, which will be used to directly explore 16 Psyche.

Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Veteran miner Scott Moore, CEO of the mining company EuroSun Mining, explained to Oil Price that: "The 'Titans of Gold' now control hundreds of the best-producing properties around the world, but the 4-5 million ounces of gold they bring to the market every year pales in comparison to the conquests available in space."

Of course, the thinking that a space gold rush that discovers a vast amount of heavy metals could bring down Earth's affairs is based on the current state of economy and the needs of the present day. Decades from now our requirements for metal might be entirely different.

16 Psyche was actually discovered back in 1852 by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis, and named after the Greek mythological character Psyche.

Besides this giant rock in the asteroid belt, there are other mining opportunities much closer to Earth. Moore points out that while Psyche "may be the Holy Grail of space exploration for gold," near-Earth asteroids are much better first targets for mining. Even our moon might be a better place to start such operations. It also has gold as well as platinum and other rare earth metals.

In other nearer goals, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources each plan to mine the 2011 UW158 asteroid, worth up to $5.7 trillion.

Lest you think this is all science fiction, Morgan Stanley projects the global space economy to be already worth $350 billion, which it thinks will grow to trillions by 2040. The race is on between the U.S., China, Japan and even small Luxembourg, which has 10 space-mining companies registered.

Why is NASA sending a spacecraft to a metal world? - Linda T. Elkins-Tanton

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

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  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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