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Category: Bullion Bulletin

Bullion Bulletin: Back to where it came from

Gold is an element, which means it can't be made through ordinary chemical reactions. To make gold, 79 protons and 118 neutrons have to be fused toget...

16 September 2021

Gary Mead

Gold is an element, which means it can’t be made through ordinary chemical reactions. To make gold, 79 protons and 118 neutrons have to be fused together to form a single atomic nucleus. That kind of intense nuclear fusion only happens when neutron stars collide.

Gold is made in space; and gold is going back into space on 18 December. That’s the day scheduled to send 48.25 grams into the sky, at a speed of 25,000 miles per hour or seven miles per second. The gold will coat the primary mirror – all 21.5 feet across – of the James Webb Space Telescope, carried on an Ariane 5 rocket.

One of the unusual characteristics of gold is its amazing ductility – one ounce of gold can be drawn out into 50 miles of gold wire just five microns thick; that’s five millionths of a meter. The gold coating on the Webb telescope, covering 25 square meters, will be just 600 atoms thick. The telescope will be the largest and most powerful ever launched into space. The purpose of this $10 billion mission is to look into the birth of the first galaxies in the early Universe.

The gold coating significantly increases the reflectivity of the telescope in infrared light. The coating needs to be thick enough to cover the mirror entirely, but thin enough to not affect the mirrors when they expand or contract through temperature changes. Gold coatings are used on spacecraft and astronaut helmets to protect them from radiation.

Could gold mining one day go extra-terrestrial? The Psyche asteroid, which was discovered in 1852, has a diameter of some 140 miles, and orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter’s orbits is thought to contain a motherlode of metal including gold, iron and nickel, with a value put at about $700 quintillion – that’s $700, 000,000,000,000,000,000! NASA is planning a mission to carry out initial exploration of Psyche in 2026. It’s going to be a while before any Psyche gold is mined.

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