While it’s highly likely that major deposits of precious metals are still lurking undiscovered on our own planet, scientists and investors have already begun to look beyond the Earth for the mining industry’s “next big thing.” Numerous firms from around the world have already begun to develop technologies which could be deployed to test asteroids for precious metals. In the coming decades, these companies hope that it will become technologically and financially feasible to mine asteroids for their silver, gold, platinum and other rare, strategic and valuable resources.
The theory that asteroids might harbor deposits of valuable metals is rooted in scientific fact. According to a recent study carried out at the University of Bristol, our current understanding of planet formation cannot explain why the Earth is so rich in gold and platinum. When the Earth was formed, its naturally occuring gold and platinum should have bonded with the ferrous elements that make up the planet’s core and sunk far below the surface. However, the fact is that there are thousands of times more precious metals on or near the Earth’s surface than there ought to be. So where did these precious metal deposits come from?
Scientists believe that most of the near-surface silver, gold and platinum on our planet resulted from an asteroid bombardment which took place millions upon millions of years ago. If that is true, then it stands to reason that the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter could prove to be a veritable gold mine of precious metals. To date, the most comprehensive study carried out on asteroid mineral composition found that the asteroid Eros, a large near-Earth asteroid in the Amor group near the orbit of Mars, contains precious metals and minerals with a current market value of 20,000 billion U.S. dollars. The same study concluded that Eros contains more gold, platinum, zinc and other valuable metals than has ever been mined on Earth in all of human history.
Those involved with the development of asteroid mining technologies believe that asteroids are, by and large, easier to reach via space travel than the Moon. They also believe that in addition to precious metals, asteroids could house other extremely valuable minerals and resources, virtually all of which could be harvested and processed into usable materials. These resources could then be used here on Earth, or committed to humankind’s efforts to colonize space.
While the vision is to ultimately create space-borne mining and processing facilities, it is more likely that unmanned spacecraft would be deployed to harvest these resources, at least in the early years of asteroid mining. Though neither model is financially or technologically possible at the present time, some experts believe that asteroid mining might not be as far off as it would initially seem.
Depleting resources of precious metals on our own planet, coupled with increasing demand and rising prices, could make the cost-benefit proposition of asteroid mining feasible in the future. An added benefit of developing asteroid mining technologies is that they could also be applied to intercept, redirect or harvest space objects which are on a collision course with Earth, potentially averting a disaster which could have devastating consequences for life on our planet.
Granted, asteroid mining technologies are likely decades away from practicality. However, for investors looking towards the future, companies with a leg up in this potentially groundbreaking field could end up paying untold dividends in the years ahead.