NEW YORK -- NASA is preparing to send a spacecraft to a giant "metal" asteroid that may tell scientists the secret of how our solar system was formed.
Led by Arizona State University researchers, the mission called "Psyche" is focused to know whether the asteroid, called "16 Psyche" and thought to be made of iron and nickel, could be part of what was an earlier planet perhaps as large as Mars.
"This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world -- not one of rock or ice but of metal," Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Psyche's principal investigator, said in a statement.
Psyche robotic mission will launch in October 2023 and will arrive at the asteroid in 2030, following an Earth gravity assist spacecraft maneuver in 2024 and a Mars flyby in 2025, NASA said in a post.
"'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," added Elkins-Tanton.
"16 Psyche" is nearly three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth. The asteroid measures about 210 kilometres in diameter.
Scientists believe that the asteroid might have lost its outer core through a series of collisions and the mission could shed light on how planets and other masses broke up into cores, mantles and crusts years ago.
According to a report in Global News, the iron in "16 Psyche" would be worth $10,000 quadrillion (That's right, $10,000 quadrillion, as in 15 more zeros).
NASA has also selected another mission known as Lucy that will visit Jupiter's mysterious Trojan asteroids.
Lucy, a robotic spacecraft, is scheduled to launch in October 2021. It's slated to arrive at its first destination, a main belt asteroid, in 2025.
From 2027 to 2033, Lucy will explore six Jupiter Trojan asteroids.
These asteroids are trapped by Jupiter's gravity in two swarms that share the planet's orbit, one leading and one trailing Jupiter in its 12-year circuit around the sun.
The Trojans are thought to be relics of a much earlier era in the history of the solar system, and may have formed far beyond Jupiter's current orbit.
"This is a unique opportunity," said Harold F. Levison, principal investigator of the Lucy mission.
"Because the Trojans are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets, they hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins," Levison added.