Friday, May 4, 2012

Mining Precious Metals

Silver is a soft, white, lustrous transition metal, and most of which is produced as a byproduct of copper, gold, lead, and zinc refining.  The rings in the above image are made of silver

Silver has long been valued as a precious metal.  Aside from its industrial and medical applications, it is widely used to make ornaments, jewelry, high-value tableware, utensils (hence the term silverware), and currency coins.  Moreover, it is a very ductile, malleable (slightly harder than gold), monovalent coinage metal, with a brilliant white metallic luster that can take a high degree of polish.

Supply of silver is plentiful and readily available; thus, many people can afford their retail prices compared to the more costly gold and platinum.  Silver is the most common precious metal in jewelry-making these days.

Of great interest lately, is a new company, Planetary Resources.  It intends to go into outer space and mine minerals and even water from asteroids near our planet. The platinum groups of metals, which include ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium as well as platinum, are found in small concentrations on Earth, which is one reason that these metals are so valuable, but on asteroids the metals can be found in almost pure form and in huge masses.

If its efforts proved successful, with supply becoming abundant, the prices of precious metals may eventually become affordable by regular consumers.

A possible target for exploration by this mining company is a single space rock that is 500 meters wide and which alone contains more platinum than all of that metal mined in human history.  Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, said of these space ores: “If you look at space resources, the next step is to go to the near-Earth asteroids. They’re just so valuable, and so easy to reach energetically.  Near-Earth asteroids really are the low-hanging fruit of the solar system. We're going to go to the source. The platinum-group metals are many orders of magnitude easier to access in the high-concentration platinum asteroids than they are in the Earth's crust."

Anderson also explained that the development of water resources in space, which does not normally fit into the popular conception of space minerals and compounds, could enable crews in space to extend extensively our reach into the cosmos. He added, "We're really talking about enabling the exploration of deep space. That's what really gets me excited." Already astronomers have identified about 8,900 near-Earth asteroids, and between 100 and 150 are believed to be water-rich bodies. Water will also enable humans to grow food in space, because the other components of horticulture — minerals and sunlight — are already present.

Read more here.

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  1. Hi there - It will be interesting to see how the space mines turn out!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Australia

  2. How interesting! I had no idea.

  3. Love this! I'm so glad you decided to join us and share at 'Weekly Top Shot.' :-) I hope you'll come share again next week...