Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Can We Mine Asteroids?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Can We Mine Asteroids?

Article excerpt

Some scientists believe asteroids could provide us with scarce resources. An upcoming NASA mission will explore the possibility. Asteroids--lumps of metals, rock, and dust--are the cosmic leftovers of the solar system's formation 4.5 billion years ago. They number in the hundreds of thousands, reaching up to hundreds of miles across. Small asteroids outnumber large ones, but even a house-size asteroid could contain metals worth millions of dollars.

"S-type" asteroids contain iron, nickel, and cobalt, along with valuable trace elements. "A small, 10 m S-type asteroid contains about 1,433,000 pounds of metal, with about 110 pounds in the form of rare metals like platinum and gold," says Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for NASA's asteroid sample return mission, scheduled for launch in September 2016. Rare "M-class" asteroids hold about 10 times more metal than the S-class, Lauretta adds. However, technological innovations are needed to make asteroid mining economically feasible. …

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