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No, a Giant Gold Asteroid Is NOT About to Crash the Market

Commentaries & Views

NASA is advancing a mission to explore a metallic asteroid called 16 Psyche to launch in 2022. The immediate result is reporting by sloppy journalists, saying this “golden asteroid” will “make everyone on Earth a billionaire.” Somehow, the same articles say this will collapse commodity prices and perhaps the global economy as well.

This is so obviously silly that I tweeted about it at the time and left it at that. But the story keeps spreading. It’s like a perverse instance of Gresham’s Law in which bad information displaces truth. Even the saner reports that debunk the claim about making everyone rich fail to question key errors in the original reporting. So I feel a need to set the public record straight.

Now, I understand that most journalists didn’t study rocket science or rock science. But that’s no excuse for patently untrue headlines making literally impossible claims.

16 Psyche is not made of gold and platinum.

It’s thought to be one of the largest metallic asteroids in our solar system, but we’ve never been there, so we don’t really know what it’s made of. From a distance, it seems the surface, at least, is 90% iron. The rest would be mostly nickel and smaller amounts of other minerals.

Calling this a “golden asteroid” is grossly inaccurate.

A quick Google search could have saved these reporters from getting the basic facts wrong. This makes me wonder if it really was sloppiness and sensationalism, or if there’s an agenda behind these reports.

The “make everyone a billionaire” claim is even harder to understand.

Who could possibly imagine that giving everyone on earth a billion dollars would make everyone richer?

Just ask the folks in Zimbabwe how rich they felt with 100-trillion Zimbabwe dollar notes in their pockets.

And while it’s possible to print “100 Trillion” on scraps of paper to stuff in people’s pockets, it’s not yet possible to carve a large asteroid into seven billion pieces and give one to every person on the planet.

Even when asteroid mining does become possible many years in the future, no one is going to spend a government-scale fortune to do it, and then simply give the proceeds to every person alive.

Naïve or ignorant science reports are often breathless about what some new experiment shows might be possible. Reporters almost never ask what it would cost to go from the lab to the marketplace. In the real world, it is literally impossible to say what something is worth if there’s no cost figure to compare to the value to be gained.

There’s so much we don’t know here…

  • Though we may soon—if you believe Elon Musk—we don’t actually have commercial interplanetary space flight yet, let alone the specialized vehicles needed.

  • We don’t yet have portable space habitats for asteroid miners.

  • We don’t yet have asteroid-mining robots, which would be cheaper and safer than sending people off to do the work.

  • We don’t know what minerals 16 Psyche is composed of.

  • 16 Psyche is big enough that even trace amounts of rarer metals could add up to huge amounts, but it’s also possible there may not be enough to matter.

  • We can’t know how—or what it will cost—to extract metals from those minerals until we find out what they are.

  • Someone will have to design, build, and test zero-gravity smelters and refineries.

  • If vast tonnages of metals are to be brought back down to earth’s surface safely, that will cost a lot too, in energy alone.
  • We do not yet have the technology to do this (we have heavy launch vehicles, not heaving landing vehicles).

And that’s not to mention the security issues…

Large hunks of metal anywhere near earth’s orbit could be used as weapons. If we carved 16 Psyche up into chunks a kilometer across, there would be millions of them. Dropping one on a city would be like a nuclear strike.

Remember what happened to the dinosaurs.

Bottom line: even if 16 Psyche is as full of metals, we don’t know if it would even be worth mining, whenever it finally does become possible to do.

That said, I do think asteroid mining will happen some day—and it will be a game-changer.

Once we have cheap and easy access to space, it’s no stretch to see extracting metals from asteroids floating around being cheaper and easier than digging them out of the earth.

And there would be no environment to harm.

Win-win.

Plus, we’d have all the metals we’d need to build giant space habitats, solar power collectors, and even interstellar ships—without having to lift the stuff out of the earth’s gravity well.

Win-win-win.

As it would take many years for this industry to develop and grow, the global—and then interplanetary—economy would have time to adjust.

Win-win-win-win.

The ultimate result of successful asteroid mining would be a lower average cost of living for everyone.

This isn’t the same as the logical impossibility of making everyone rich (just as it’s impossible for everyone to be above average), but people would be better off. Just as average people today live longer and enjoy better health than the kings and queens of the past, the average Joe living in 2100 will enjoy things that today’s billionaires can only dream of.

Win-win-win-win-win.

So no, a giant golden asteroid is not about to wipe out gold bug dinosaurs.

But a better future is within reach, and that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, gold remains above its multi-year trading range, and that’s a very good thing for those who own it—and an even better thing for those speculating on the best gold stocks.

I encourage all who have not yet download their free copy of my 2019 Gold Breakout: How to Profit report to do so today. Whether you invest alongside me or not, it will show you what, how, and why I’m deploying my own money in the precious metals sector today.

Caveat emptor,

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.