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Why Asteroid 16 Psyche is Valued at $10,000,000,000,000,000,000

The 2021 black comedy ‘Don’t Look Up’ famously depicted plans by Mark Rylance’s billionaire character, Sir Peter Isherwell, to mine a comet hurtling towards Earth. While Isherwell’s idea sealed humanity’s fate in fiction, the notion isn’t entirely implausible.

Indeed, an asteroid known as Psyche is a repository of rare elements and metals, estimated to be worth a staggering $100,000 quadrillion. Discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852, it was named after the Greek goddess of the soul, Psyche, due to its significance as the sixteenth asteroid discovered.

Psyche’s immense value stems from its composition, believed to include metals like platinum and palladium crucial for Earth’s industries. This irregular, potato-shaped asteroid spans 64,000 square miles (165,800 square kilometers) and is estimated to consist of 30 to 60 percent metal, according to NASA.

NASA experts suggest Psyche is likely the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planetesimal, offering a unique glimpse into the solar system’s formation through radar and optical observations.

Despite its astronomical value and scientific intrigue, Psyche orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, approximately 235 million to 309 million miles (378 million to 497 million kilometers) away. While NASA has embarked on its Psyche mission launched in October 2023 to study this legendary asteroid, the endeavor is driven by scientific curiosity rather than a pursuit of financial gain.

The challenges of asteroid mining, including navigating low-gravity, high-radiation conditions, and autonomous operation due to communication delays, underscore the technical hurdles ahead. While existing technology has been tested in laboratories, significant funding and advancements are needed to realize large-scale asteroid mining.

Nevertheless, proponents like Philip Metzger and Kevin Cannon envision a future where asteroid resources could revolutionize space exploration and settlement, despite current economic challenges and declining metal prices on Earth.

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