BLOOMSBURG, COLUMBIA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The asteroid belt holds thousands of asteroids that orbit our solar system. A local professor has played a major role in the study and mapping of one of the biggest asteroids.

The 16 psyche asteroid is the largest m-class asteroid in our solar system the m stands for metal and it’s that metal that drew Bloomsburg University professor Michael Shepard to his research.

“Radar bounces off of rock very differently than metal, so the idea was that if these are actually metal then the radar should show us that. So I spent 20 years bouncing radar off of all these asteroids that are like this,” stated Shepard.

That radar data needed to be made practical.

“So we can take radar images and turn them into a shape. A 3d shape. So what you’re seeing over my shoulder here is an animation of that shape model,” explained Shepard.

That animation and shape are now in the hands of NASA which has planned an exploratory probe to survey the asteroid it will launch in august later this year.

The asteroid poses no danger to earth, safely orbiting in the asteroid belt beyond Mars.

“In fact it very unlike what you see in space movies where someone goes into an asteroid belt it’s like video gaming, it’s nothing like that. You could fly blind and never hit anything, you’d literally have to aim for stuff,” said Shepard.

The probe may help further research on harvesting closer asteroids in the not-so-distant future.

“There are companies that are formed right now doing preliminary studies to see what the costs of going to an asteroid that might have a lot of iron or nickel or other metallic minerals that we could mine and profit from,” stated Shepard.

While confident in his work he does find humor in studying a rock from a hundred million miles away.

“But if we get there and it doesn’t look anything like it, I’m gonna feel like an idiot,” said Shepard.

While the probe will launch in just a couple of months it will still take about 4 years for the probe to reach the asteroid.