This is the Insane Metallic World NASA Wants to Explore Next

By Gizmodo on at

NASA announced the finalists for its next round of planetary explorations. There were the usual suspects—Venus, Jupiter’s asteroids—and, then, there was this: An asteroid, composed almost entirely of (possibly magnetic) metal, with a crust literally beaten away by interstellar collisions, named Psyche. Pardon?

If you haven’t heard much about Psyche yet, there’s a good reason: We don’t know very much about it. But the things we do know are, in a word, bizarre—starting with where it came from.

A Crash Into A Metal World

Psyche is exceptional for being a very large asteroid to begin with, but it also has another distinction: It’s made almost completely of metal, mostly iron. But Lindy Elkins-Tanton, who would be leading the mission, and other researchers don’t think that was always the case.

At one point, it may have had a much more traditionally rocky surface—and then something happened, a crash (or possibly several crashes) with something very large.

This Is the Insane Metallic World NASA Wants to Explore Next

Image: Model of Psyche / Observatory, University of Helsinki

Those crashes were so traumatic, researchers theorise, that all that was left was the hot core, which cooled into the metal-iron world there today. Going there wouldn’t just be a chance to visit a strange iron world, it could also be a chance to learn more about cores.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of that metallic, cooled-core surface...

The Asteroid May Also Be A Magnet

You read that right. Researchers have long suspected that Psyche is a giant, metallic space magnet.


It has to do with what happened after Psyche’s core began to cool off—and just how it did that. There are a couple different ways it could have cooled off and solidified—and each one would have different implications for how it ended up:

This Is the Insane Metallic World NASA Wants to Explore Next

Image: Lindy Elkins-Tanton et. al / 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2015) via USRA

If the core did indeed solidify outwards, researchers say that the kinds of magnetisation we see sometimes on a much smaller level in meteorites could be echoed on a larger scale on Psyche as a whole.

Top image: Artist’s concept of Psyche, NASA/JPL