Science.-Two nearby asteroids exceed iron and nickel reserves

04-10-2021 An artist’s impression of a close flyby of the metal-rich near-Earth asteroid 1986 DA. Astronomers using NASA’s infrared telescope facility have confirmed that the asteroid is 85% metal. RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY ADDY GRAHAM / UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA


Two metal-rich asteroids (NEAs) have been researchers in our cosmic backyard to learn more about their origins, compositions, and relationships with meteorites found on Earth.

Their presence offers the intriguing possibility that iron, nickel and cobalt may one day be mined for use on Earth or in space, new research published in the Planetary Science Journal highlights.

These metal-rich NEAs were thought to have been created when the cores of developing planets were catastrophically destroyed early in the history of the solar system, but little else is known about them.

A team of students co-led by University of Arizona associate professor of planetary sciences Vishnu Reddy studied asteroids 1986 DA and 2016 ED85 and found that their spectral signatures are quite similar to asteroid 16 Psyche, the largest metal-rich body. Of the solar system. Psyche, located in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter rather than close to Earth, is the target of NASA’s Psyche mission.

“Our analysis shows that both NEAs have surfaces with 85% metal like iron and nickel and 15% silicate material, which is basically rock,” lead author Juan Sánchez, who works at the Institute of Planetary Sciences (PSI). “These asteroids are similar to some stony iron meteorites, such as mesosiderites found on Earth.”

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Astronomers have been speculating about what the surface of Psyche is made of for decades. By studying metal-rich NEAs approaching Earth, they hope to identify specific meteorites that resemble the surface of Psyche.

“We began a NEA population composition study in 2005, when I was a graduate student, with the goal of identifying and characterizing rare NEAs such as these metal-rich asteroids,” said Reddy, principal investigator for the NASA grant. who financed the work. “It is gratifying that we discovered these ‘mini psyches’ so close to Earth.”

“In perspective, a 50-meter metallic object similar to the two asteroids we studied created the Meteor crater in Arizona,” said Adam Battle, a co-author of the paper along with his colleagues from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. graduate students Benjamin Sharkey and Theodore Kareta, and David Cantillo, an undergraduate student in the Department of Geosciences.


The paper also explored the 1986 DA mining potential and found that the amount of iron, nickel, and cobalt that could be present on the asteroid would exceed global reserves of these metals.

Furthermore, when an asteroid is catastrophically destroyed, it produces what is called an asteroid family: a group of small asteroids that share similar orbital compositions and trajectories.

The team used the compositions and orbits of asteroids 1986 DA and 2016 ED85 to identify four possible asteroid families in the outer region of the main asteroid belt, which is home to the largest deposit of small bodies in the inner part of the solar system. This is also the region where most of the largest known metallic asteroids reside, including 16 Psyche.

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“We believe that these two ‘mini Psyches’ are probably fragments of a large metallic asteroid in the main belt, but not 16 Psyche itself,” Cantillo said. “It is possible that some of the iron and stony iron meteorites found on Earth may also have come from that region of the solar system.”

Myrtle Frost

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