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Scientists Discover Two metal-rich near-Earth Asteroids

October 22, 2021

Researchers have identified two near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) that are believed to be made of 85 percent of metals such as iron, nickel and cobalt that could be used on Earth or space.

These NEAs, if mined, could exceed the current global reserves of these metals.

Forbes reported about a paper that was published in the Planetary Science Journal. The paper documents the examination of two asteroids, 1986 DA and 2016 ED85, whose light appears to be similar to asteroid 16 Psyche, a large metallic asteroid ideal for space mining.

In 2022, NASA plans to launch its “Psyche” mission to orbit 16 Psyche and document the asteroid. However, Psyche 16 is about 370 million km (230 million miles) from Earth NASA will not reach the 226 km (140 miles) wide asteroid that is situated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — until 2026.

In comparison, the NEAs, 1986 DA and 2016 ED85 are tiny — just a few miles wide, yet thought to be the result of the cores of developing planets like 16 Psyche being destroyed early in the Solar System’s history. Crucially, they’re far closer to Earth than Psyche, so would be better targets for mining.

“Our analysis shows that both NEAs have surfaces with 85 percent metal such as iron and nickel and 15 percent silicate material, which is basically rock,” said lead author Juan Sanchez, who is based at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona. “These asteroids are similar to some stony-iron meteorites such as mesosiderites found on Earth ... it is rewarding that we have discovered these “mini Psyches” so close to the Earth.”

The paper explored the mining potential of 1986 DA and found that it’s 85 percent metal—and that its iron, nickel and cobalt could exceed the global reserves of these metals.

It’s also possible that the researchers have stumbled on to a seam of metal-rich asteroids. By studying the orbits of 1986 DA and 2016 ED85 they identified four possible asteroid families in the main asteroid belt—home to 16 Psyche.

“We believe that these two “mini Psyches” are probably fragments from a large metallic asteroid in the main belt, but not 16 Psyche itself,” said David Cantillo, an undergraduate student in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona. “It’s possible that some of the iron and stony-iron meteorites found on Earth could have also come from that region in the Solar System, too.”

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