Humble Beginnings for Precious Metals

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Precious Metals

Congress doubts certain bailout talks, retirees have been hit with investment issues, and Sarah Palin is finally meeting some world leaders. Sure, there’s plenty of hard-hitting news to cover today. But this afternoon, let’s take a break from the CNN homepage, and instead focus on a question that’s plagued you for years: Where do precious metals come from?

Ah, you may have discussed this in junior high science classes. Or perhaps your parents shared a tale about the stork and his golden eggs. There’s one professor, however, who wants to set the record straight. He has another theory, and it seems much more plausible than storks planting platinum eggs far beneath the Earth’s crust. Rather, he argues, precious metals such as platinum, gold and iridium found their way to the planet through iron meteorites.

We wrote about meteorite mining earlier this year, so we’re quick to consider this proposal. “Gold, platinum, iridium, palladium and rhodium are examples of Highly Siderophile Elements (HSEs), metals that tend to bond with solid or molten metallic iron,” an article shares about the research, which Dr. Gerhard Schmidt will present at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) in Germany this week. “When the Earth was still forming, it heated up, and the HSEs and other heavy elements were stripped from the surface of the young planet into its iron- and nickel-rich core. HSEs found in the crust [possibly] came from … meteorite impacts. Over the course of 12 years, Dr. Schmidt and his colleagues analyzed HSE concentrations at a number of meteorite impact sites and in the earth’s crust and mantle at other sites.”

The article shares a few quotes from Dr. Schmidt that further explain the theory: “A key issue for understanding the origin of planets is the knowledge of the abundances of HSE in the crust and mantle of the Earth, Mars and Moon … We have found remarkably uniform abundance distributions of HSE in our samples of the Earth’s upper crust. A comparison of these HSE values with meteorites strongly suggests that they have a cosmochemical source.”

For more information, read the above-linked article. You could still try to catch the EPSC this week, too! That is, if you happen to live in Germany.

–Amy Edwards

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