Look, up in the sky ... a gold mine in space?

A man in Moscow looks at picture taken in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk on February 15, 2013. It shows the trail of a meteorite above a residential area of the city.

There was a lot of attention on the sky Friday.. 

While most of us were sleeping, an exploding meteor -- the size of an 18-wheeler -- pummeled parts of Russia with massive shock waves that injured thousands.

 It also blew out parts of a zinc plant there, causing zinc prices to spike almost one percent. There were worries thay the damaged plant would crimp supplies of the metal. 

 Not so, says Alex King, who directs the Ames National Laboratory.

 “This [facility] is a very small component of the world’s total supply,” he says.

 Zinc prices fell back to terra firma by day’s end, actually closing slightly down. 

A bit later in the day, a totally unrelated asteroid known as DA14 -- 150 feet in length -- skirted past the earth at a record-close 17,200 miles.

 DA14’s passage didn’t trigger any fluctuations in metal prices. But in the near future, similar flybys might.

 Take, for example, if DA14 had been 150 feet of platinum.

 “That’d be pretty valuable,” says Stephen Fleming, vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute at Georgia Tech. “Actually, it’d crash the world markets.”

 As DA14 passed, scientists hit the asteroid with radar to find out exactly what it’s made of. Most believe it’s probably just rock. 

Even so, Fleming says two companies -- Planetary Resources and Deep Space, Inc. -- are working on ways to mine precious metals from asteroids near and far.  

 “Now that you’ve got two people in it, now you’ve got a horse race.  Suddenly, it’s an industry,” he says.  

 Fleming believes early missions are on the horizon, although they’ll likely net only small amounts of precious metals at first. But there exists the potential for billions of dollars to be made.

 Proof that what’s now considered space debris could one day be space treasure.   

About the author

Jim Burress is a reporter for WABE in Atlanta.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...