Historically, gold has always been extremely valuable. It was used to honour the Gods and has always been associated with wealth. But how secure is gold as a financial investment and where exactly does gold come from?
At times, alchemy was even used as a science dedicated solely to the yellow-coloured metal with the aim of artificially producing gold. It never managed to do so. And no wonder, since recent findings have shown that gold does not originate on Earth. The densest metal that can be produced on Earth by earth gravity is iron. Iron has an atomic number of 26. Metals with a greater density must therefore come from elsewhere. So, where do elements such as gold (no. 79) or platinum (no. 78) come from? For a long time, scientists believed that these elements were formed from supernova explosions. Then, experimental data proved that such stellar explosions couldn’t be the main source of gold. What then?
In 1999, a computer simulation managed to produce gold
Now working at the University of Stockholm, physician Stephan Rosswog managed to show how a wide range of heavy elements – including gold – could be produced from the collision of two neutron stars in a computer simulation back in 1999. In order for this to happen, a large quantity of neutrons must be present, which can be taken from atomic nuclei. Neutrons transform into a proton inside the atomic nucleus, which emits an electron.
Research to date shows that gold – along with all other precious metals – cannot be part of Earth’s natural matter: Elements with a high density form part of the Earth’s liquid core, which formed the Earth’s mantle around 4.5 billion years ago.
The origins of gold were experimentally proven in 2017
As recently as 2017, experiments demonstrated that gold and other heavy elements were in fact formed from the fusion of two neutron stars.
The fusion of two such ultra-compact stars was monitored via the gravitational waves produced, which in itself was a scientific sensation. The gold formed could be spectroscopically proven using a telescope that scientists had pointed at the site of the cosmic activity. It is highly probable that gold comes from space.
Based on current knowledge, alchemists cannot produce gold artificially. Is gold therefore a secure financial investment? Not necessarily. Yes, there was once a time not too long ago when gold lost some of its value within the space of a few years:
The price of gold: Inflation due to the discovery of America
During the conquest and exploitation of Central American cultures in the 16th century, shiploads of gold and silver were transported to Europe. Between 1494 and 1850, it is estimated that 4,700 tonnes of gold came from South America. This was so much gold that the price of gold completely collapsed:
the increase in gold had severe consequences for the economies at the time. Prices began to rise globally. In Spain, inflation was at 400 percent in the 16th century. This price revolution spread throughout Europe and even as far as Asia.
Asteroid mining: A surplus of gold in the near future?
Around 170,000 tonnes of gold have been mined throughout the history of the world. Just over 3,300 tonnes of gold are mined each year. That’s not a lot. But the more the value of gold increases, the more lucrative it is to mine this gold. The deepest gold mines in South Africa now reach more than 5,000 metres into the Earth. Asteroid mining is becoming an increasingly discussed topic due to ambitious space programmes: does gold exist on asteroids close to Earth? If so, then these gold reserves are relatively easy to tap into. Unlike the moon, asteroids have no gravitational force. A laden (robot) spaceship can easily launch and bring mineral resources back to Earth. Although launching a rocket from the moon requires a lot of energy, around 400 kilogrammes of moon rock are found on Earth:
At present, there are three sources for moon rock on Earth:
- Rock collected by the American Apollo missions
- Samples from the Soviet Luna missions
- Rocks which naturally break away from the surface of the moon due to impact and fall to Earth as meteorites.
2,415 samples with a total weight of 382 kg were collected during the six Apollo missions, most of which were collected by Apollo 15, 16 and 17. The three Luna rockets brought another 326 g of material back and more than 90 lunar meteorites were found on Earth by 2006, more than 30 kg of material in total.
SpaceX, Soyuz and Shenzhou: Gold soon to be worthless?
Will gold soon be worthless? This is not the case at present – gold is still high in value. However, a depreciation in the price of gold is possible, particularly if asteroid mining becomes a reality. Too many tonnes of gold mustn’t be flown to Earth. The discovery and proof of gold on asteroids close to Earth alone could soon put pressure on gold prices. There are already times throughout history when precisely this happened: Spanish and Portuguese conquerors brought so much gold to Europe on galleys that the global price of gold collapsed. So, perhaps history will rhyme itself if rockets and modern galleys such as SpaceX, Soyuz and Shenzhou report of their discoveries.
Foto CC0 Public Domain by unsplash