Gold plays a critical role in the history of our planet. Revered for its alluring qualities, it is a rare precious metal with a lot of value. From gold coins to even gold flakes, any amount of gold can have us humans jumping with excitement.
Stemming from the Latin word for “shining dawn,” gold holds a special place in science and society. The precious metal possesses properties that span base metals. With the chemical symbol AU, its ductility and malleability appeal to jewelers and scientists alike. Additionally, it has properties that allow it to conduct heat.
How is gold formed in the earth? The answer goes beyond just a strike of luck in the gold mines. Interestingly, the story of the formation of gold begins in the sky. Let’s look at how gold is formed.
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Does Gold Naturally Come from the Earth's Surface?
While we can find gold deposits on the earth’s surface, gold comes from the stars. Long before the earth formed into how we see it today, right after the Big Bang, the only elements in the universe were hydrogen and helium. As time went on, the first stars formed and started to generate chemical reactions that would lead to the creation of other elements, such as nitrogen and oxygen. Still, these stars would not be able to produce gold just yet.
Millions and millions of years later, the lifecycle of a star comes to an end. These stars explode and form a supernova. The immense explosions of a supernova then create neutrons that get absorbed by the heavier elements found in stars. This process is called neutron capture. As a result, these nuclear reactions create new heavy elements, including gold atoms.
Scientists hypothesize another way stars can form gold is through neutron star collisions. Neutron stars are the aftermath of the collapse of a star as big as the sun. When two of these stars collide, they produce one of the most powerful explosions in the universe: a gamma-ray burst. The energy that results from this explosion creates gold, as well as many other metals.
How Did Gold Get to the Earth's Surface?
Now that we know the answer to the question “how is gold formed in the sky?” let’s take a look at how gold occurred in our world.
Gold on earth is a result of the chemical reactions when stars explode or collide. The elements churn together and create a new planet. This is how the earth’s core came to be. After a star explosion, the resulting heavy elements came together to form the earth’s crust and, resultingly, our planet.
These star explosions also create asteroids. Scientists believe that asteroids filled with gold concentrations and other metals hit the planet’s surface a couple hundred million years ago, which deposited more gold on the planet.
Additionally, gold formed in the earth’s molten core. As the earth formed, molten iron brought along other heavy elements, such as copper and gold. When iron magma cools as it rises to the surface from underground, it carries along other elements with it. This is how gold-bearing rocks form. The veins and some of the layers of the rock produce gold.
Gold is one of the precious metals that exist in the earth’s crust. However, we would never have had accessible gold if it weren’t for asteroids that hit the planet’s surface a few trillion years ago. Earthquakes are also a direct reason for our access to gold. Without these influential events in the history of our planet’s surface, we would not have all the gold formed billions of years ago.
How Is Gold Formed By Human Hands?
When we ask, “how is gold formed?” it is easy to wonder if gold can be formed by humans. However, it is impossible to create the precious metal, as only so much gold exists on the planet. It is impossible to form pure gold because scientists would have to change its atomic number. This is the number of protons found in elements on the periodic table. Changing this number would not create gold but rather create a different element.
Scientists have attempted to create gold by using a nuclear reactor on mercury to create synthesized gold. However, it was unsuccessful, and the gold present on earth is the gold that prevails.
Still, it is possible to create new gold for aesthetic purposes. Since gold is so prominent in fashion and jewelry, especially in our recorded history, it is more economically feasible to form gold-like materials.
Does All the Gold Come from Outer Space, or Can Earth Make More?
The vast majority of gold comes from the planet’s core. It is a direct result of a reaction between elements in outer space. As a result, the earth cannot produce more gold itself. The precious element would have to come from space. The amount of gold on earth is limited unless more gold particles are deposited on earth through something like a meteor strike.
Additionally, layers of the earth’s crust can be exposed through earthquakes, allowing for more accessible gold. Plus, when there is gold formed within a rock, both groundwater and seawater can erode the minerals and expose the remaining gold left on earth.
Where Is Gold Found on Earth and How Much Gold Remains?
Finding gold formed from the core of the earth usually occurs when mining or searching for alluvial deposits in river beds. However, gold exists on all of earth’s continents, and because it has a dense concentration, scientists have estimated a large proportion lies on the bottom of the ocean.
The gold extracted throughout the history of humanity amounts to about 200,000 tons. Still, that is only a modest amount compared to how much gold remains. Up to this point, mankind has encountered a tiny fraction of the gold metal that exists on earth–only 15 percent!
Only small amounts of gold formed from the sky exist on the surface of the earth. Most gold is in the earth’s molten core. Gold continues to be one of the world’s rarest elements. There is such a limited supply that we have access to, and the price of gold remains high.
Why Is Gold Such a Beloved Precious Metal?
Solid gold is so treasured among humans for many reasons. Its metallurgical properties are desirable, including its durability, purity, and ability to bypass erosion to avoid decay. Gold is an element in low abundance, indicating a high value.
Plus, when melted into a substance at high temperatures, gold can become many different things, such as coins for currency or jewelry for a display of wealth. We even use gold to represent the highest awards in our competitions. With phrases like “the gold standard,” we truly value all that gold offers.
Despite not being as rare as an element like platinum or silver, gold is often the center of attention for people all over the world. Even since antiquity, humans desired gold. Gold leaf in religious texts was a way to honor God, and the adornment of gold for beauty and fashion was a significant part of society. When discovered, gold is an indication of wealth. Interestingly, gold nuggets found by miners during the Gold Rush moved populations because of their high value.
Additionally, the precious metal is a critical element of our modern technology. It helps power up computers and other electronics by serving as a conductor of energy. It also plays a role in medicine and the advancement of science. People even incorporated gold into finance. You can sell and exchange a gold coin for a rich amount. Even an ounce of gold can have a significant value.
Despite all the positive things that gold offers, the extraction of the element has impacted the environment and communities of people, especially as gold closely aligns with wealth. Gold in the form of jewelry is often a display of class and financial status.
Also Read: Historical Value of Gold
Did you know there are different types of gold in the jewelry industry? Though natural gold exists for many other purposes, solid gold must mix with other metals so that it can withstand repeated use. Otherwise, the gold would not withstand everyday wear.
All are classified as the same element; however, based on the alloys used to compose the metal, they radiate different colors. The three types of gold are:
Yellow is the purest form of gold. It contains the highest levels of natural gold but mixes with copper, silver, and zinc. White gold comprises gold, nickel, and zinc to form a durable, silver-like piece of metal. Though it has a color resembling silver, it still possesses more value.
Rose gold is unique from yellow and white as it combines just two elements: gold and copper. Together they form pink metal that has reached popularity in the past decade. Although it only contains two metals, rose gold has just as much authentic gold as white and yellow.
You can find naturally occurring in many forms–as a rock, coins, jewelry, or liquid form. No matter the shape or size you find gold, it has been on the planet for as long as the planet has existed unless it’s a product of an asteroid.
Gold not only brings beauty and charm to our world, but has scientific value and intrigue. It is a real piece of geological history that has withstood the test of time and helps scientists uncover the truths about our planet. If you encounter a piece of gold, remember how far it must have come from the regions of space into the very palm of your hand.