Project/blog link:Should We inVESTA in Mining BASIS Advisor: Zachary Plueger Internship location: US Geological Survey, Astrogeology Science Center Onsite Mentor: Moses Milazzo, PhD, Research Scientist
Mining on asteroids is a relatively new idea in the mining industry. The limited resources as well as environmental and societal impacts of mining on Earth make mining on asteroids in the future an attractive option. Asteroid mining may provide more cost-effective access to these metals once they are too costly, too difficult, or too damaging to mine on Earth. Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) such as iridium, palladium, and platinum are the metals we are focusing on with the asteroid Vesta. We will use the QGIS mapping software and data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to map Vesta’s mineral content. Because PGM ore bodies are never pure PGM, the standard way to find PGMs on Earth is to search for specific marker minerals that generally indicate likelihood of PGMs. Such marker minerals are useful in assessing PGMs because of the relatively low concentrations of PGMs in ore bodies. In searching for PGMs on Vesta, we will map sulfides, chromite, ultramafic minerals, dunite, and Ni-Cu. Once these marker minerals are mapped we will calculate areal coverage of each marker mineral, areas where marker minerals overlap, and the strength of the signal of each marker mineral. These data will be fed into a geographic probability algorithm to calculate the probability of PGMs across the surface of Vesta. This will provide an assessment of the availability of PGMs on Vesta, which has never been done before.