Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Could the asteroids be the next gold rush?

Growing up I often heard Johannes Kepler’s famous line: “Between Jupiter and Mars, I Place a Planet.” Kepler had been studying the distances of the known planets. He thought there was a large gap between Mars and Jupiter. Later Ceres and other asteroids were discovered! In doing a bit of research on this quote, I was surprised to find that full quote was “Between Jupiter and Mars, I Place a Planet, and also another between Venus and Mercury.”

When I was fourteen I read a book about asteroids. One of the points in the book has stuck with me over a couple decades. The book said that a small asteroid of about one cubic mile was worth about $50 billion. This was in the 1970s. Nowadays the number would be closer to $300 billion. Scientists have found that asteroids have a greater density. There appears to be a greater concentration of metals when compared to the earth.

NASA is launching a probe next month which will fly out to the asteroids. The probe, named Dawn, will first go to Vesta, and then to Ceres. Dawn should arrive at Vesta October 2011. It will orbit for seven months, studying the asteroid, and then leave for Ceres. Dawn is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in February 2015.

Early space development may be largely financed by tourists, at least in the short term. Over the years more people and industry will start to move out into space. Mining the asteroids may prove to be the next gold rush. Stories are told of miners walking along the river banks picking up nuggets of gold. It may be that at some point men in rocket ships will be able to fly to the asteroids and pick up valuable metals. Today large copper mines in the United States can be profitable if about one percent of the dirt is copper.

It will be fun to see what we learn from the Dawn probe.

Update I: 22 June 07

Astronomy Picture of the Day just posted pictures of Ceres and Vesta.

Technorati tags: , , ,

No comments: