Mining for asteroids will be the next gold rush

(Credit: iStock)

Forget cryptocurrency — the next big “gold rush” isn’t even on Earth.

Physicist Michio Kaku, writing in his new book “The Future of Humanity” (Doubleday), believes a bonanza is coming from mining asteroids, which he calls “flying gold mine[s] in outer space.”

NASA defines asteroids as “cosmic ‘leftovers’ from the solar system’s formation about 4.5 billion years ago,” with some containing iron, nickel, carbon, cobalt and other precious metals such as platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium. These substances are all found on Earth but are rare and running out — making the search to replace them increasingly urgent.

Humanity stands to benefit massively from harnessing these rocks. One example — 3,000 feet across — was recently estimated to contain 90 million tons of platinum, worth around $5.4 trillion. A smaller asteroid — about 100 feet across — could contain materials worth between $25 billion and $50 billion on Earth.

There are about 16,000 asteroids labeled “near-Earth objects,” which means that their orbits cross Earth’s path, and astronomers have identified 12 nearby asteroids with the highest potential for mining.

Kaku predicts that asteroid mining will resemble a 19th century cattle supply chain, in which cattle was herded from the Wild West and sent to Chicago, where meat was processed and then sent off to other urban areas. “The moon would be like the Chicago of the future,” he writes, “processing valuable minerals from the asteroid belt for shipment back to Earth.”

There are three types of asteroids: “C-type,” “S-type” and “M-Type.” S-types contain high concentrations of metal, iron, nickel and cobalt but little water, while M-types are the most lucrative, boasting 10 times the amount of metal. (Asteroids usually remain in stable orbit in the asteroid belt, but when one breaks off into space and hits the Earth’s atmosphere, it burns up as a meteor — and often we can see them in the night sky as shooting stars.)

C-type asteroids — the most common type, making up 75 percent of asteroids — contain hydrated clay materials that can be mined for water in space. This water could then be turned into rocket propellant via a process called electrolysis, which might one day allow astronauts to refuel their crafts in space and explore even deeper into the cosmos.

With this much “gold” floating around the solar system, it’s no wonder Planetary Resources, a company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page and “Avatar” director James Cameron, promises it will send out exploratory spacecraft to collect data and asteroid samples by 2020.

NASA also jumped on the bandwagon by launching a $1 billion probe called OSIRIS-REx in 2016 to explore the 1,600-foot wide Bennu asteroid that will pass Earth in 2132. The probe will land, retrieve some rocks and return to Earth to help us figure out how much we stand to gain from space debris.

So how much of this “gold” is out there? If you put together all the masses of the solar system’s known asteroids, they would add up to just 4 percent of the mass of the moon. “However, the majority of these objects have not yet been detected by us, and there are potentially billions of them,” Kaku writes.

And while “small asteroids are much more numerous than large ones,” according to NASA, “even a little, house-sized asteroid should contain metals possibly worth millions of dollars” — enough to tempt any 21st century prospector into staking a claim.

Norway to spend $12.7M in upgrades to ‘doomsday’ seed vault

Does Norway know something we don’t?

The Scandinavian country announced Monday that it is going to spend about $12.7 million to upgrade its “doomsday” seed vault that is the world’s largest repository built to safeguard against wars or natural disasters wiping out global food crops.

The Verge reported that the upgrades will focus on a new concrete tunnel and “emergency power and refrigerated units and other electrical equipment that emeits heat through the tunnel.”

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a gene bank built underground on an isolated island in a permafrost zone some 620 miles from the North Pole, was opened in 2008 as a master backup to the world’s other seed banks, in case their deposits are lost.

The latest specimens sent to the bank, located on the Svalbard archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, included more than 15,000 reconstituted samples from an international research center that focuses on improving agriculture in dry zones. They were the first to retrieve seeds from the vault in 2015 before returning new ones after multiplying and reconstituting them.

The specimens consisted of seed samples for some of the world’s most vital food sources like potato, sorghum, rice, barley, chickpea, lentil and wheat.

The agency borrowed the seeds three years ago because it could not access its gene bank of 141,000 specimens in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo, and so was unable to regenerate and distribute them to breeders and researchers.

Fifty thousand samples were deposited last year from seed collections in Benin, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Morocco, Netherlands, the U.S., Mexico, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus and Britain. It brought the total deposits in the snow-covered vault — with a capacity of 4.5 million — to 940,000.

Interlocked spiral of ancient skeletons unearthed in Mexico City

Archaeologists in Mexico City have discovered the burial of 10 skeletons arranged in a spiral, with two of the skeletons showing intentional skull deformation. Credit: INAH

Modern-day Mexico City is built on top of centuries of previous settlements, so it’s not unusual for ancient tombs to occasionally be uncovered beneath the city’s streets. It is, however, strange to find 10 ancient skeletons arranged in a spiral with their bodies interlocked, as archaeologists recently did.

The 2,400-year-old burial was discovered during salvage excavations of an ancient village beneath the campus of the Pontifical University of Mexico, in southern Mexico City, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) announced.

The archaeologists said the burial is the “most peculiar finding” they’ve made since they began unearthing the ancient settlement of Tlalpan in 2006. There has never been a grave with so many individuals from this era (the Preclassic period) discovered in the region, according to the statement from INAH.

Video footage from the excavation trench showed how the archaeologists found the collection of human bones. Arranged in a circular grave, 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter, the bodies had been buried with some grave goods, including stones and ceramic jars and bowls. The 10 individuals include males and females, mostly young people, as well as an infant and a toddler. [25 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

The researchers have not yet determined the cause of death for the individuals or how they might be related to one another, but they have observed some signs of body modification: intentional skull deformationin two cases, and tooth mutilation in a few others. These practices —which might have involved binding children’s growing skulls with cloth and filing teeth into different shapes —were common among several cultures in Mesoamerica. [In Photos: Deformed Skulls Reveal Odd, Ancient Tradition]

The archaeologists think the unusual burial layout was perhaps part of an ancient ritual. The age range of the deceased signals that the arrangement could symbolize the stages of life, the director of the excavations, Jimena Rivera, told the news channel Televisa.

The village of Tlalpan was among the earliest settlements to crop up in the Basin of Mexico (also called the Valley of Mexico), INAH researchers said. Close to the ancient shore of Xochimilco Lake, the village would have had abundant freshwater, trees for construction and fertile soil for agriculture. This settlement was located east of Cuicuilco, an important urban center at the time, known for its pyramids. These sites predated Teotihuacan, one of the biggest cities of the ancient world, which rose to its peak in the Basin of Mexico a few centuries later, during the Classic period.

Egyptian archaeologists discover 4,400-year-old tomb near Cairo

Camels rest between rides with their owners against the backdrop of the pyramids in Giza, Egypt, in 2015.

Egyptian archaeologists are hailing the discovery of a 4,400-year-old tomb near the pyramids outside Cairo.

Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enany told reporters Saturday that the tomb was built for Hetpet, a priestess to Hathor, the goddess of fertility, who assisted women in childbirth, Ireland’s RTE reported.

A guide from the Ministry of Antiquities inspects a discovery from Egypt’s antiquities authorities at the Giza plateau, the site of the three ancient pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh - RC111F906BF0

A guide from the Ministry of Antiquities inspects a discovery from Egypt’s antiquities authorities at the Giza plateau, the site of the three ancient pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt.  (REUTERS)

The tomb was discovered during excavation work in Giza’s western cemetery by a team of Egyptian archaeologists led by Mostafa Al-Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The cemetery houses tombs of top officials from the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty (2465-2323 BC), and that several have already been dug up since 1842, according to RTE.

“The tomb has very distinguished wall paintings in a very good conservation condition depicting Hetpet standing in different hunting and fishing scenes or… receiving offerings from her children,” the Antiquities Ministry said.

FILE - In this Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, file photo, the Sphinx and the historical site of the Giza Pyramids are illuminated with blue light, as part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations in Giza, just outside Cairo, Egypt. Archaeologists in Egypt say they have discovered a 4,400-year-old tomb near the pyramids outside Cairo. Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry announced the discovery Saturday and said the tomb likely belonged to a high-ranking official known as Hetpet during the 5th Dynasty of ancient Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

The Sphinx and the historical site of the Giza Pyramids are illuminated with blue light, as part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations in Giza, just outside Cairo, Egypt, in 2015.  (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Al-Waziri said the scenes depict a monkey — at the time commonly kept as domestic pets — reaping fruit and another dancing before an orchestra.

Al-Enany said the new tomb includes “a purification basin on which are engraved the name of the tomb’s owner and her titles”.

The discovery of an Old Kingdom tomb from Egypt’s antiquities authorities is seen at the Giza plateau, the site of the three ancient pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh - RC118118DB80

The discovery of an Old Kingdom tomb from Egypt’s antiquities authorities is seen at the Giza plateau, the site of the three ancient pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, Egyp  (REUTERS)

“A German expedition had found in 1909 a collection of antiquities carrying this lady’s name, or a lady who has the same name, and these antiquities were moved to the Berlin museum at the time,” he said, according to RTE.