I wrote about this a couple of days ago (based on an article from two weeks prior), but it’s interesting to see random websites suddenly jumping on the “we’ll all get rich!” asteroid mining band wagon. Hey, everybody, let’s copy-paste stuff and not use our brains!
A new article by rt.com even includes two click-bait links to “how gold was formed” that have nothing whatsoever to do with NASA’s probe to (16) Psyche. Of course, we shouldn’t expect any less from an obvious Russian “news” distributor. But in the interests of calling out the bad reporting in this and similar “news” articles spread online recently, let’s give this a hearty smack-down.
What’s new? Not much
For starters, the idea of mining asteroids is not new. Companies have been suggesting this for a few years now. It just hasn’t actually happened yet (because it’s, ah, astronomically expensive to start up such a mining operation).
Second, none of the information in the most recent articles are new. The basic information is published by NASA, itself (so why not just read their articles? – maybe because they aren’t terribly good at PR). Some of the quotations date from two years ago and are from companies that have really very little idea about how to mine an asteroid (or even how to get to one in the first place).
As for the asteroid itself, it was initially identified and named in 1852. The radar observations hypothesizing its formation were published in 1985 and later confirmed in 1999. Even the concept of sending a probe to Psyche was first proposed over five years ago. So much for “new” information, internet.
The basic premise of recent click-bait articles about asteroid mining is that you, the reader, will personally benefit. Hey, look at all the gold in space! You could get rich! Invest! Click here! Click here! Again!
The kicker is (brace yourself) you won’t get rich. Surprised?
There are NO asteroids literally filled with gold. (16) Psyche is “nearly pure” iron-nickel. The rt.com article (stolen verbatim from oilprice.com) repeats the unproven, unreferenced claim that “The massive quantities of gold, iron and nickel contained in this asteroid are mind-blowing.”
Repeat. There is no gold. If the term “golden” was used in the earliest articles about 16-Psyche, it was used metaphorically, not literally. Smh.
And as for the “$700 quintillion [is this even a real number?] in precious heavy metals [you mean, iron is a precious metal now?]”…companies can’t simply mine (16) Psyche and sell all the iron and nickel at once. If a company mined the Psyche asteroid and tried to sell all the metals therein, the dumping of massive amounts of metal supply into the global market would render iron, platinum, and so forth completely worthless.
It’s basic supply-demand. The more of something there is, the cheaper it becomes. There’s a reason why countries have gold and oil “reserves.” If they were to dump all their natural resources into the global market, the sheer volume would tank the selling price and companies would go bankrupt around the world. And that, my friends, is what we call “bad.”
So who cares about “full metal” (16) Psyche?
NASA does plan to send a probe to “full metal” Psyche, to arrive by 2026. So why? What the articles about gold and oil don’t tell you is that the presence of mineable metals in space possibly points the way for construction of space stations and exoplanetary habitats.
It’s incredibly expensive to send predesigned structures into space because of the size and weight involved. The heavier an object is, the more energy is needed to break Earth’s gravity.
If robots and 3D printers could be designed to create structures on the Moon or Mars (or eventually elsewhere, such as Triton, etc.) using materials already in space, a whole lot of rocket fuel won’t have to be used. Companies that mine the metals for these structures could set up processing factories and charge countries and other corporations that build habitats and space station facilities.
After all, how else are we going to get all the materials in space to make the USS Enterprise?
Now that’s the space race we should be talking about. Not this “we’ll all get rich” nonsense. (Also, who is this “we,” anyway? Not you and me, Bub.)