An asteroid with a core containing platinum said to be worth $5 trillion passed within 1.5 million miles of Earth on Sunday night as researchers drooled over the possibility of one day mining space for valuable minerals, according to Forbes.
The first detailed images of Asteroid 2011 UW158 were released last week by Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, which described the asteroid as being “an odd shape much like an unshelled walnut.”
Measuring about 1,000 by 2,000 feet, it passed our planet at a distance of about six times farther out than our moon, but close enough to interest companies in developing a means of exploiting the valuable asteroids that pass Earth.
One such company is Planetary Resources, the Asteroid Mining Company in Redmond, Washington. It describes Asteroid 2011 UW158 as a “prime example of an asteroid Planetary Resources will aim to mine in the future.”
NASA is also interested in what sort of resources near-Earth asteroids may hold for future missions and is currently planning a so-called “asteroid redirect mission” that will involve using a robotic craft to snag an asteroid or part of an asteroid and then move it into orbit around the moon, where it can be visited in person by astronauts for research and other purposes. The space agency is already in the midst of imaging 2011 UW158 with space and ground-based telescopes as it passes by us and lists the rock on a list of potential human mission targets.
Planetary Resources, which just received two grants from NASA to help its development of mining space, just last week launched the spacecraft Arkyd 3 Reflight from the International Space Station to begin a 90-day mission to test asteroid prospecting technology.
Though mining space might still be years away, perhaps it will be commonplace when Astroid 2011 UW158 passes Earth again—in 2108.
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