NASA Will Be Looking For Gold on Asteroids

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NASA Will Be Looking For Gold on Asteroids

Scientists from Vanderbilt University commissioned by NASA has created a model of telescope intended to search for gold and other minerals on asteroids using galactic gamma radiation appearing from engagement of cosmic rays with its surface.

According to the representative from Vanderbilt University, mission to Mars, the moon, mercury and Vesta are equipped with low-resolution spectrometers, which require a large amount of research time and costs for mapping minerals on the surface of the studied celestial bodies. The system developed by scientists from Vanderbilt University will measure the proportion of substances in the subsurface of these bodies with extremely high precision and very small cash.

The scientists commissioned and sponsored by NASA are developing a unique gamma telescope being able to “peer into” the subsurface layers of rock on asteroids and other small celestial bodies using cosmic rays reaching us from interstellar medium.

As the scientists explain, all airless bodies of the Solar system are continually bombarded with “galactic” charged particles accelerated to relativistic velocities. When they collide with atoms on the surface of asteroids and moons, they generate a flow of other particles which penetrate into the thickness of rocks, and slam into atoms of gold and other components in their depths, giving rise to a flux of gamma-quanta. 

If you can “catch” this flux and analyze its spectrum, it’d be possible to identify the chemical composition of an asteroid or planet and estimate its “profitability” based on the belief of mining.

The problem resides in the fact that modern gamma telescopes based on light sensitive matrix of pure germanium require all-powerful and very expensive cooling systems, which are almost impossible to be sent into space, as well as extremely energy-consuming power supplies. Therefore private space initiatives, including Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, did not attempt to create such a probe.

This issue has been solved by NASA engineers and Vanderbilt University. They’ve discovered the material – crystals from the compound of strontium, iodide, and rare earth metal europium that is almost equal to germanium in sensitivity to gamma rays emanating from the asteroid but doesn’t require special cooling and extra supply of energy.

According to the scientists, telescopes and detectors on the basis of these crystals could be installed even on landers, which makes easier and accelerates the aim of discovering of celestial bodies suitable for mining of gold and other minerals, as well as could help planetary scientists to understand how was born the Solar system.

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