It is often said that the resources of our planet are limited. However, a new source of resources may be space and specifically an asteroid.
Many of the materials on which modern civilization is built exist in much larger quantities and throughout the rest of the solar system. After all, the Earth was formed by the same cosmic cloud as all the other planets, comets and asteroids.
A recent study has set a new perspective.
The lead researcher Juan Sanchez and a team of scientists analyzed the asteroid's spectrum 1986 OF, a member of a rare class of asteroids close to Earth, rich in minerals. They found that the surface of this space rock is 85% made up of metals and probably includes iron, nickel, cobalt, copper, gold and platinum group metals, which have been awarded for industrial uses, from cars to electronics.
With the exception of gold and copper, they estimate that the mass of metals contained in the asteroid would exceed the global reserves found on Earth.
If mined and marketed for a period of 50 years, the 1986 DA precious metals would bring in about $ 233 billion a year for a total shipment of $ 11,65 trillion.
In short, mining a nearby asteroid could yield a precious metal jackpot. And there are bigger prizes hidden farther away in the asteroid belt.
Of course, asteroid mining is not a new idea. The most difficult and expensive part of this project is the journey to these asteroids, the extraction of precious minerals and their sending back to Earth.
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What makes the 1986 DA particularly interesting is its proximity to Earth.
Most asteroids rich in minerals are found in the asteroid belt, among Mars and Jupiter. Famous among them is the 16 Psyche, a 140-mile-wide asteroid first discovered in 1852.
The asteroid belt was once thought to be the remnants of a planet, but its origin is less certain now.
However, scientists speculate that the asteroid Psyche may be the exposed nucleus of an evolving damaged planet. According to this theory, the developing planets in the asteroid belt grew large enough to differentiate rocky mantles and metal cores. They later suffered a series of collisions, leaving their shattered rock debris and broken metal hearts to wander around the belt.
The existence of such exposed metal in one place is tempting for those who would extend the presence of humanity beyond the Earth.
In any case, we have only managed to gather a basic portrait of Psyche. It is just too far to study it in detail. That's where the asteroids 1986 DA and 2016 ED85 come from.
Both DA 1986 and 2016 ED85 are classified as near-Earth asteroids. At some point in the past, gravitational interactions with Jupiter led them out of the asteroid belt and into orbit close to Earth. Thus, a key motivation of the study was to trace the origin of the asteroids. Because they are closer, we can observe them in more detail and infer the characteristics of their distant family members.
According to the study, spectral analysis of the asteroids, combined with orbit simulations, suggests that they probably come from one of the four families in the outer asteroid belt.
According to the study, the two asteroids have a similar composition to Psyche.
The dream of asteroid mining has been extensively studied over the last decade.
Space services have sent samples of asteroids. But large-scale mining will most likely depend on cheaper space access and a sustainable market. Until then, we are stuck in the search phase.