Whether it be in our modern times or in ancient civilization, gold has been a significant element that exhibits exuberance and prestige. Gold is one metal that has not lost its value despite the circumstances, as even in the era of the barter system it was worth a lot, and even now in the contemporary world where actual money is utilized, it is still worth so much. Though this heavy metal is available on our planet, it is nothing compared to an asteroid made of heavy metals and gold, and its estimated value is said to be USD 10,000 Quadrillion.
Formation of Gold and Availability
Most of us have this notion that gold occurs naturally within our planet via various chemical reactions, however, that is not the case. Once we understand how it is formed it starts to make sense why it is so expensive. It originates from a cataclysmic event, known as Supernova. As you might be familiar that stars just like our Sun are made up of hydrogen atoms and under extreme gravity, a nuclear fusion is triggered in the star’s core, this results in the release of immense energy making the star shine and creates a delicate balance that keeps the star stable. As time progresses, after some billion years the fusion starts to convert hydrogen atoms into helium, though this process takes the longest, the following transitions are quicker respectively.
After burning helium, each new element is created that is heavier than the previous one such as carbon and oxygen, and finally reaching iron and even nickel, at this point, insufficient energy is released by nuclear fusion. The delicate balance that kept the star together is disrupted and it implodes rapidly under gravity and this collapsing results in an explosion of the star and this process result in a supernova. The conditions are so extreme that subatomic particles; electrons and protons are jammed together resulting in neutrons, and these have no charge on them. These neutrons are then captured by iron atoms which are then converted into heavier metals such as silver followed by gold. Thanks to this explosion these elements are dispersed in the interstellar medium and after millions of years, they take the form of planets and other space bodies and it is this way that gold became a part of our planet.
The discovery of this asteroid is nothing new, it was discovered in the year 1852 within our solar system and is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The name 16 Psyche, comprised of two letters 16 and psyche, 16 represents the number it was discovered as and psyche is after a Greek goddess of the soul. It is located about 370 million kilometers away from Earth and is a medium-sized asteroid, 226 kilometers across. Though it was discovered in 1852, it was only in October of 2020 that scientists found, thanks to ultraviolet data from the bubble telescope that unlike other asteroids it contains heavy metals, among which gold is also present. As most say that gold is present on it, some speculate that only iron and nickel would be present, as the exact composition of it is still unclear but it is certain that at least 30-60% of this space rock is comprised of metal.
Still, NASA is planning to send an expedition to the asteroid by the year 2026 to uncover its origins. It will launch the space shuttle in 2022 which will then reach the orbit of Mars by 2022, finally, it will reach the asteroid in the year 2026, and here the spacecraft will orbit the asteroid for about 21 months. According to scientists, it originated during the formation of an earlier planet. As for the composition, even if we accept that it is made entirely of iron and take into account its size, its value still comes to USD 10,000 Quadrillion, that is 10 followed by eighteen zeros. Another fascinating fact about this asteroid is that a typical day here lasts about 4 hours, however, a year is almost 5 times longer due to its location from the Sun.
Why Study this Asteroid?
Curiosity is a powerful driving force and humans’ unending desire to know more is one factor. Another reason why it is important to study this specific asteroid is that we cannot study the Earth’s core, as you can imagine there are extreme pressures, and also our Earth’s core burns at around 5,000°c. If that’s not bad, the outer core is located approximately 2800 kilometers from the surface and so far we’ve only been able to dig 12 kilometers, so you can imagine studying this asteroid is far easier and its elements will allow scientists to understand the formation of planets better. As NASA is planning to send an expedition to this asteroid, could it be possible to bring it to Earth to study? According to scientists, even if we had such powerful equipment to do so, bringing such a large body into the Earth’s atmosphere will simply obliterate an entire continent. Somehow if it is magically brought back, it will still have a negative effect by collapsing markets on Earth.
Ultimately, it is an explored territory and this will give us a new perspective on the universe and its functions. Still, it is five years away and we can hope this mission will bring new information for us.