Untold Riches – Way Above

Written by Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser

Ever dreamt of hiking over the landscape and finding a mineral vein rich with ores, perhaps even silver or gold glittering in the sunshine, like in the Hand of Faith vein in Australia? How about joining the gold rush fever – without trekking up the Chilkoot Pass as thousands of prospectors did well over 100 years ago?

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The chances of finding a “mother lode” are slim, even when trying hard. They are similar to winning the jackpot in a big lottery. But don’t give up just yet; there is a new “horizon” for your exploration activity—the new frontiers are way up in the outer space and deep down in the oceans (the latter to be the subject of another post)!

The Outer Space

That’s where one modern Klondike Gold Rush is heading. No more drudging in the wilderness, just go out into the intergalactic space and simply collect the golden marbles afloat in space without direction. To top it off, no biting insects or other menacing critters to worry about there either; in short, any prospector’s dream come true!

Oh, you don’t know how to get there? Just take the next space rocket, with ample sustenance supplies for a few years and, voila, there you are—unimpeded in harvesting the bounty of the next space object, a lode full of iridium.


What’s that now? No, I’m not talking about the satellite communication system going by that name, I’m referring to the rare element found on earth that’s used for special purposes, like the Intl. Prototype Metre and kilogram mass units, kept by theIntl. Bureau of Weights and Measure near Paris, France, since the late 1800s.

Indeed, iridium is a rare element on earth, somewhat similar to platinum and, not surprisingly, in a similar price range.

At this time, the element iridium (with the chemical notation “Ir”) does not have a great following. Like the related platinum, in its elemental (metal) state it is highly resistant to heat (melting point ~4400 F) as well as chemical attack from acids and bases. Probably for the same reasons, iridium-derived compounds have been studied less than those of the other platinum group metals. One of the metal’s widest known uses was in an alloy as nib for fountain pens in the 1950s; do you still know what such pens were good for?

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Now, you might think that iridium is kind of irrelevant to life on earth. But that’s where the big surprise comes in:  Iridium has had a major impact on the globe, still visible at many locales, just think back in time a bit, about 65 million years or so ago. That’s when “iridium” wiped out much of the life on earth, for example, the dinosaurs. Triceratops and the rest of the bunch all died in one fell swoop. That point in time is present in geological deposits from all over the globe and is commonly known as the “KT Boundary” or “Iridium Anomaly.”

The KT Boundary

The KT (Cretaceous [the “K’ is from the German geological epoch term “Kreide”]-Tertiary geological epoch) boundary term itself does not describe the occasion in vivid language much but it must have been a truly cataclysmic event. Some 90% of living organisms were wiped from the face of the earth, not just some of their specimens but entire species that had inhabited the land and sea already for millions of years.

What happened then was that, out of the blue sky, one of those celestial bodies appeared and slammed into the earth. Such (larger) objects typically travel at speed of 40 miles PER SECOND and the energy released on impact is enormous, in the order of thousands of atomic bombs—all going off simultaneously.

While most of those galactic objects are more or less made up from simple rocks that one could find at other places on earth, that particular one, causing the KT Boundary must have been rich in iridium. That’s why this geologic epoch boundary has a thin layer with a significantly higher concentration of that rare element.

I am confident that a few more of such iridium-rich rocks are out there, somewhere in space, just waiting for your discovery and harvesting.

About the Author

Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is a professional scientist with a Ph.D. in chemistry from the Technical University, Munich, Germany. He has worked as a research scientist and project chief at Environment Canada‘s Canada Centre for Inland Waters for over 30 years and is currently Director of Research at TerraBase Inc. He is author of nearly 300 publications in scientific journals, government and agency reports, books, computer programs, trade magazines, and newspaper articles. Dr. Kaiser has been president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research, a peer reviewer of numerous scientific papers for several journals, Editor-in-Chief of the Water Quality Research Journal of Canada for nearly a decade, and an adjunct professor. He has contributed to a variety of scientific projects and reports and has made many presentations at national and international conferences.

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