The Naked Metal Core of a Dead Planet Is Circling the SunS

You know about those plans to visit an asteroid in the next few years? Well, a select group of astronauts would like to sweeten the deal. Why visit a regular asteroid, when there's a planet's solid metal floating up there and it's likely magnetic?

Asteroid 16 Psyche is the intriguing candidate in question. Linda Elkins-Tanton of the Carnegie Institute recently proposed a mission to Psyche at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The composition of the asteroid is very much like Earth's core, but its soft outer layers have been stripped away by other incoming asteroids.

If, indeed, the metal core currently in orbit used to be molten, it's also probably highly magnetic; Elkins-Tanton even refers to the asteroid as "a little refrigerator magnet in space." This could likely have an effect on how we design the spacecraft or satellite that will visit it, and the bizarre landscapes that might be found on the asteroid also sound spectacular. Simulations of how the asteroid might have lost its outer layers suggest, for example, "that Psyche's craters could have dramatic rims that froze in splash-like patterns." The scientists studying it describe it as a "metal world."

"A mission there is the only way that humankind will ever visit the core of any body," Elkins-Tanton said, adding that Psyche could teach us a lot about how planets work. "We can learn about the building blocks of the planets in the first million years of the solar system in a way that we can't do any other way."

That is, if the metal spaceship doesn't get stuck to the magnetic asteroid in the process. [New Scientist]

Image via AP