5 Amazing Things We Could Harvest from Asteroids and Comets

As much as this pains me to say it, in some sort of backward way, the movie Armageddon was kind of prescient. There may indeed come a day when we send drilling teams to land on asteroids and/or comets. These teams will likely be made up of robots, of course, and not teams of Bruce Willis, Steve Buscemi and Michael Clark Duncan. And also when we go to comets and asteroids we will not be doing so to save the earth, but rather to make a profit.
There are already plural entrepreneurial companies investigating the near-term potential for interplanetary mining operations. Many people—very smart people, in fact—are rather confident that within a few short years, we could be harvesting valuable resources from massive chunks of rock and ice hurtling through space. No flying cars, sure, but the future is kind of here…

5 Life

Image Credit: Wikimedia

From comets and asteroids, could we get… life itself!? Scientists have in recent years began to postulate that both RNA and DNA, the amino acid compounds at the very root of all organic life, may be found on these extraterrestrial objects. The next logical question is whether or not that is how we got our start—were our most ancient, most primitive “ancestors” little bits of matter on these celestial spaceships? We’re not sure yet, but it’s pretty damn cool to think about!

4 Nickel-Iron

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Much like our own planet, some large asteroids likely have nickel-iron in their cores, or at least have deposits of nickel-iron in their makeup. This metal (or these metals, once separated) are useful in countless ways, so many and so common it would be a fool’s errand to list them. What’s cool about asteroid iron is that, rather pure as it is relative to earth ore that requires smelting, the metals found in meteorites are more readily workable. Thus much of early Iron Age development was augured in by people using “heavenly” metal, and then realizing how excellent it was for all sorts of stuff (mostly stabbing) and being motivated to develop other ways to produce it.

3 Platinum

Image Credit: Wikimedia

And if you liked hearing about gold, you’ll enjoy this one even more: when it comes to platinum, a metal even rarer, more valuable, and more useful than gold, the proportion of frequency goes through the roof! An average ton of asteroid material contains a staggering 280 times more platinum than a ton of earth rock! That is an awful lot of catalytic converters and fine earrings we’ll be able to make! As soon as we figure out how to successfully harvest space rock, that is.

2 Gold

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Everyone loves gold, right? It’s great for rings, for circuitry, for dentistry, and for greedy bridge trolls alike! If you love gold, then you’ll totally love asteroids. That’s because, pound for pound (or maybe milligram for milligram, we should say), a typical ton asteroid rock has well over fifty times the amount of gold in it than a typical ton of boring old earth rock. Though last we checked, it is still easier to mine the earth than the solar system.

1 Water

Image Credit: Wikimedia

The most precious resource to mankind may too be the most important to find out in space if we ever actually want to create a permanent existence there… water. Fortunately comets are mostly ice, thus the cosmos are chock full of potential water supplies! If we can only tap into it, it could be used for myriad purposes, not the least of which would be consumption. How much water is potentially flying around out there? I’ll turn to the ever-more prevailing theory that comets delivered the water that now covers 70% of our planet to put that in perspective.

We’ll wrap up today with a quick primer on something that confuses many people. No humor here! Just hard science! If you have ever wondered what the difference is between an asteroid, a meteoroid, a meteor, and a meteorite, here’s the scoop: Asteroids are just big meteoroids, and are found flying about in space, usually only designated as such if they are within our solar system. A meteor is an asteroid/meteoroid while it is falling through our atmosphere, often leaving a bright streak that leads to the term “meteor shower” when many are falling and burning up at once. And a meteorite is whatever is left after impact with earth—it’s the stuff you can pick up (and can get iron from, in some cases!). There you go. You’re welcome.

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