General, Research, Technology

What useful resources are there in asteroids and how can they be obtained?

On the territory of our solar system flyhundreds of thousands of different asteroids. This is the name of the relatively small celestial bodies of irregular shape, which move in an orbit around the sun. In disaster films, we like to show what can happen if one of the asteroids falls to Earth. But in fact, you can benefit from them. They are mainly composed of iron or rocky rocks, but they also contain rare earth elements... They are very difficult to get on our planet, andbecause they are very necessary for the manufacture of electronics. Recently, the crew members of the International Space Station proved that bacteria can be used to extract useful resources from asteroids. But how does it work and are we really going to land on asteroids and look for minerals there?

Asteroids can help humanity in space exploration

Rare earth elements Is a group of 18 elements like cerium and neodymium. All of them are silver-colored metals and are practically harmless to human health. They are difficult to mine on Earth, but they also exist on asteroids.

What are asteroids made of?

As mentioned above, mostly asteroidsare composed of iron, nickel and rock. It is believed that they are the remnants of intermediate bodies from which the planets of the solar system were created. They could not turn into full-fledged planets due to the impact of the largest planet, Jupiter. It increased the speed of movement of the asteroids, and they simply did not have the opportunity to "stick" to each other. Quite the opposite - with each collision, the asteroids were scattered into tiny particles. So, at least, most scientists think.

Asteroids are the remnants of intermediate bodies from which the planets were created

The benefits of asteroids

The fall of a large asteroid to Earth maydestroy an entire civilization. But this happens very rarely, once every several thousand or even millions of years. More recently, we were frightened by the fact that an asteroid was about to fall on our planet - but nothing, everything is fine. In fact, there is a lot to be gained from these celestial objects. In the future, humanity wants to build a base on the moon, which will become an intermediate point during flights to distant planets. It will be very expensive to bring materials like rare earths to Earth's satellite, so extracting useful resources from asteroids doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

Falcon Heavy launch vehicle

Most likely, in the future, the transportation of goods from Earth to other planets will be carried out by SpaceX. Sending cargo using a Falcon Heavy rocket will cost approximately $ 1,500 per kilogram... This is expensive, and this is not about the delivery of cargo to the moon, but only into low-earth orbit.

According to scientists, extract useful resources fromasteroids can help bacteria. In 2019, 19 matchbox-sized devices were poisoned on the ISS, which could become the main tools in this matter. These devices are referred to as "biomining reactors" and contain a solution of bacteria. A fragment of an asteroid can be placed in this mass. Some types of bacteria are able to attract and bind rare earth elements. To find out which microbes do the best at this task, the ISS crew conducted an experiment.

Biomining reactor design

Bacteria in space

They put each device inside the reactorKUBIK, inside which a certain temperature can be maintained. She also recreates the gravity of Mars, Moon, Earth and other planets using a centrifuge. Each device contained a solution containing one of three types of bacteria: Sphingomonas desiccabilis, Bacillus subtilis, and Cupriavidus metallidurans. In the course of scientific work, it turned out that the bacteria Sphingomonas desiccabilis cope best with the extraction of useful resources. They were able to extract from the basalt about 70% of the cerium and neodymium contained in the basalt sample.

Biofilm from bacteria Sphingomonas desiccabilis on a piece of basalt

Researchers believe that the Sphingomonas bacteriadesiccabilis is better than others, because they release more substances for binding rare earths. Perhaps other bacteria can be taught this, but this will be done in the course of the next scientific work.

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And here is how the future inhabitants of the moon and othersplanets will be caught by asteroids - this is already a big question, to which there is no answer yet. But the fact that bacteria can actually help people extract useful resources is very encouraging. In addition, some bacteria are able to survive even in outer space - this has been proven quite recently.