Artist's impression of one of the near-Earth asteroids - 1986 DA. Credit: Addy Graham / University of Arizona

Metal-Rich Near-Earth Asteroids: Our Solar System’s Gold Mine

The amounts of certain metals on the asteroids could exceed the world reserves as of 2020.

Astronomers presented the results of studies of two metal-rich near-Earth asteroids 1986 DA and 2016 ED85. It turned out that these bodies are indeed 85 percent composed of various metals and came from the outer part of the main asteroid belt.

At the same time, the amount of iron, nickel, cobalt, and platinum group metals in the 1986 DA asteroid, according to estimates, may exceed global reserves, which makes such bodies interesting from the point of view of extracting useful resources. 


What if we could mine near-Earth asteroids in the future?

Metal-rich asteroids

The metal-rich asteroids are believed to represent the cores of larger, differentiated asteroids, whose crust and mantle were ejected into space by powerful collisions with other objects. Moreover, some of these asteroids, in particular (16) Psyche, can still retain their stone mantle, and the metal present on their surface could have got there as a result of eruptions.

Main Belt

Some of the largest known metallic asteroids are located in the middle and outer part of the Main Belt, at distances from 2.65 to 3 astronomical units from the Sun. Characterized by a high albedo, they are considered the parent bodies of iron meteorites.

New analysis

A group of planetary scientists led by Juan A. Sanchez from the US Planet Institute has published the results of an analysis of data from observations of near-Earth asteroids 1986 DA and 2016 ED85, carried out using ground-based radio telescopes and the IRTF infrared telescope. Scientists wanted to understand where these bodies came from and what their properties are.

Sizes

The 1986 DA asteroid is estimated to be 2.8 kilometers in diameter, while the 2016 ED85 is estimated at 0.72–1.25 kilometers.

Spectral characteristics

The researchers determined that the spectral characteristics of these bodies correspond to metal-rich asteroids, which are 15 percent pyroxene and 85 percent metals.

Source

Both asteroids arrived from the outer part of the Main Belt, and their source could be the region near the 5: 2 mean motion resonance with Jupiter.

Part of asteroid (16) Psyche?

There were theories that the asteroids could have been part of (16) Psyche but those have since been dismissed. It is possible that both bodies have a common origin which could be a massive asteroid in the Main Belt.

What is asteroid 1986 DA made of?

Scientists also looked at the economic attractiveness of 1986 DA in terms of mining. If we take the estimated mass of the asteroid as 3.69×10 10 metric tons, then the amount of iron, nickel, cobalt, and platinum group metals in it may exceed the world reserves as of 2020, and the amount of copper and gold will be less.

What is 1986 Da’s worth?

The total cost of the metals contained in the asteroid could be around $11.65 trillion.

(16) Psyche mission

For now, the main target for research remains asteroid (16) Psyche, which is thought to be worth approximately 10,000 quadrillion dollars. NASA is developing an automated interplanetary station Psyche, which will go into space in the summer of 2022 and will help scientists understand the properties of Psyche, restore the picture of its evolution and evaluate the asteroid from the point of view of mining in space.


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Sources:

de Kleer, K. (n.d.). The Surface of (16) Psyche from Thermal Emission and Polarization Mapping.
Luntz, S. (2021, October 4). Two metal-rich near-Earth asteroids could be prime candidates for space mining.
NASA. (n.d.). NASA’s psyche mission moves forward, passing Key Milestone.
O’Neill, M. (2021, October 5). “mini psyches” give insights into mysterious metal-rich near-earth asteroids that could one day be mined.
SciTechDaily.
Sanchez, J. А. (n.d.). Physical Characterization of Metal-rich Near-Earth Asteroids 6178 (1986 DA) and 2016 ED85.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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