No, it’s worth quite a bit more than that.
The $5 Trillion Asteroid — 2011 UW158
Somewhere, tumbling out in the cold recesses of space, there is an object which contains an unimaginable amount of platinum. In fact, the asteroid, 2011 UW158, contains $5 trillion worth of the rare metal. Measuring only about 2,000 feet long, the asteroid is extremely dense. In July of 2015, the asteroid was imaged as it flew relatively close to Earth by the Arecibo Space Telescope in hopes that it may lead to asteroid mining.
A group by the name of Planetary Resources was formed to explore mining near earth objects which would “add trillions of dollars to the global GDP.” Planetary Resources did an assessment on the value of 2011 UW158 and estimated that it contained roughly $5.4 trillion of platinum. That is, in fact, substantially more platinum than has ever been mined on earth. Mining.com reported that there are roughly 90 million metric tons of platinum in 2011 UW158. So far, only about 9,000 tons of platinum have been mined on Earth.
Unfortunately, Planetary Resources does not have any current plans of mining the asteroid.
The $10,000 Quadrillion Asteroid — 16 Psyche
As amazing as $5.4 trillion of platinum sounds, there is an object worth even more than 2011 UW158. The asteroid 16 Psyche is unlike any other asteroid in the asteroid belt and has sometimes been called the most valuable object in the solar system. It is one of the largest asteroids in the solar system, comprising about 1% of the total mass of the asteroid belt. At nearly 250km in diameter, 16 Psyche is sometimes referred to as a minor planet. The number 16 refers to the fact that it was the 16th minor planet to have been discovered.
What is interesting about 16 Psyche is also why it is worth so much money. The asteroid is composed almost entirely of iron and nickel, as well as other metals such as gold. So much iron and nickel that the object has been assessed at $10 quadrillion (a quadrillion is a thousand trillions) of the metals. This is, of course, vastly more than the entire global GDP which is only around $140 trillion. Unlike platinum, iron and nickel are so plentiful on Earth that we are unlikely to ever need to mine 16 Psyche. However, the asteroid is being studied for other reasons.
The amount of metal in 16 Psyche is roughly 90% of the entire mass of the object, leading scientists to hypothesize that 16 Psyche must have been part of a larger object and could even be the core of an extinct planet. It is thought that 16 Psyche is roughly half of its original size and scientists suspect the fragments of the collision that broke it apart would probably be near the same orbit. Over time, scientist suspect that 16 Psyche lost its rocky silicate layer and all that is left now is the extremely dense metallic core.
Asteroid mining is a hot topic, not only on the part of Planetary Resources, but also on the part of governments looking for new avenues of acquiring precious minerals. The challenges are daunting, however, and it may be decades before we can send out robotic miners to search the cold vacuum of space for the materials we need for computers, phones, televisions, etc. Currently, there are a handful of startups exploring the idea seriously, piggybacking on research done by governmental agencies who have successfully landed and anchored to asteroids. There are no current active mining operations. However, the future is bright in the asteroid belt.