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Can asteroid Nereus be mined for metals worth billions?

Nereus is composed of nickel, iron and cobalt.

By: Science Desk | Kochi |
Updated: December 15, 2021 5:26:22 pm
asteroidNamed “4660 Nereus", the near-earth asteroid is a frequent visitor to near-Earth space. (Representational image)

If you have watched the 1998 science fiction movie, Armageddon, you might remember that oil drillers were selected by NASA to drill a hole into the asteroid. The plan was to detonate a nuclear bomb inside the hole and split the asteroid. But can we actually drill an asteroid and extract minerals? A potentially hazardous asteroid named “4660 Nereus”, that whizzed past our planet last week is estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

According to Asterank, an online database of asteroids, Nereus is composed of nickel, iron, and cobalt. The website notes that the asteroid is worth $4.71 billion and the world can make a profit of $1.39 billion by mining them.

Asteroid mining is not a new concept. It is well known that “S-type” asteroids or rocky asteroids contain economically relevant metals. “A small, 10-metre (yard) S-type asteroid contains about 650,000 kg of metal, with about 50 kg in the form of rare metals like platinum and gold…There are rare asteroids with about ten times more metal in them, the metallic or “M-class” asteroids,” said Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. He is the principal investigator for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission.

Launched in 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was able to collect more than two kilograms of samples from an asteroid named Bennu, which is at a distance of 320 million km from Earth. The spacecraft began its journey back to Earth in May and is expected to reach in 2023.

According to Asterank, asteroid Bennu has a value of $669 million and the estimated profit is $185 million. The website notes that there are several other asteroids worth more than $100 trillion.

“It currently costs hundreds of millions to billions of dollars to build and launch a space mission, so innovations that would make these costs fall dramatically are needed before it is profitable to mine asteroids for the value of their metals alone,” says NASA.

The agency says that the lack of experience with mapping and analysing the resources in asteroids is also an obstacle to extracting material from them.

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