Somewhere between Mars and Jupiter is a potato-shaped space rock possibly worth way more than the entire economy of Earth. Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis discovered the Massachusetts-sized asteroid known as 16 Psyche lurking in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in 1852, per Fox News. New observations courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that unlike most other asteroids, which are made of rock or ice, this 140-mile-wide asteroid is made almost entirely of metal—specifically, iron and nickel—and worth an estimated $10,000 quadrillion. You need 19 zeros to write that number out in full. More important to scientists, however, are the possible clues to the origin of the universe that may lay hidden in its folds, some 230 million miles from Earth.
It's thought that the asteroid is a protoplanet, or an incomplete planet, that could reveal the "building blocks" of the solar system, says Tracy Becker of the Southwest Research Institute, lead author of a study published in the Planetary Science Journal. It's possible that an early planet as large as Mars "was struck by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust," leaving only the metal core behind, she adds. "Once we get to Psyche, we're really going to understand if that’s the case." NASA plans to launch a spacecraft to the asteroid in August 2022, with arrival scheduled for January 2026. The orbiter, dubbed Psyche, will spend two years investigating the asteroid, per CBS News. A project scientist previously told the outlet that there are no plans to use its material for industry. Indeed, USA Today reports NASA "lacks the technology to mine it." (NASA just pulled off a different asteroid mission.)