From the Director





by Rex Parker, Phd

May 14 Meeting – Election of Officers. Once again we’ve come around in our orbit to the election point for the Board of Trustees. Actually it’s the re-election point, since each of your current officers has again agreed to stand for another 1-yr term. All members are urged to attend the May 14 meeting at Peyton Hall to give us your vote of confidence — and we need a quorum.

Through the dedication and skill of Board members the organization operates effectively and the future direction of the club is guided. The cutting edge lectures by renowned speakers don’t just spontaneously appear at Peyton Hall the 2nd Tuesday of the month. The Observatory telescopes and electronics do not provide clear images of the sky on their own accord. The financial health isn’t in balance, public astronomy isn’t brought to hundreds of kids and adults each year, and the comradery and interest of the membership isn’t promoted without high-functioning Board members. So here’s a big round of thanks from me speaking for the entire AAAP, for Ira Polans (Program Chair), Michael Mitrano (Treasurer), Larry Kane (Asst. Director), Jim Poinsett (Secretary), Dave and Jenn Skitt (Observatory Chair), and Gene Allen (Outreach Chair) for their contributions and willingness to step forward for another year.

From Stone to Star, part 2. As we left the story last month, answering the deep questions about the origin of heavy elements on earth draws upon theory and observational science in astronomy, physics, geology, and chemistry. Gold, platinum, and the other rare heavy metals that are so precious to human civilization can only be obtained by mining from deposits near the surface of the planet. But that may change in the not-too-distant future as science fiction approaches reality.

The story of gold and its fellows is a tale of long and involved geological processes bringing the metals up from magma near the core where it sank during the early molten stage of formation of the earth 4.5 billion years ago. The amount of gold mined through human history is remarkably little, less than 200,000 tons, of which ~2/3 has been mined since 1950 according to data from the World Gold Council. Surprisingly, if that total amount of minable gold were stacked into a cube it would measure less than 22 meters on each side. Only about 50,000 tons is thought to be still in the ground and minable. Clearly a financial case might be made for mining the asteroids, where gold is one of many valuable metals which could be obtained. Indeed, NASA, JPL, Arizona State University, and Maxar Technologies are teaming up for a mission to explore the composition, structure, and history of the metallic asteroid 16 Psyche. This asteroid, first discovered and named back in the 1850’s after the Greek goddess of the soul, is about 70 miles in diameter and orbits between Mars and Jupiter.

The composition of 16 Psyche is highly enriched in iron, nickel, and heavier elements including gold and platinum, suggesting it originated as the core of a planet long-since blasted apart. The amount of gold and other rare metals in 16 Psyche vastly exceeds the amount of minable precious metals on the earth’s surface. At last, we have motivation for a space mission from both the science and financial communities! Bringing even a fraction of that much gold and other metals to earth could be hugely disruptive to the economy, but the NASA team is only instrumentally exploring and not mining, at least in the near future. Yet the stuff of sci-fi is inexorably drawing closer to becoming reality as the asteroids align with dreams of once unimagined sources of wealth on earth.

This entry was posted in May 2019, Sidereal Times and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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