$5 Trillion Dollar Platinum Asteroid Zooms Past Earth

Earlier this year, asteroid mining company Planetary Resources Inc. made a small (but critical) step toward its mission of finding, collecting, and mining precious metal rich asteroids in outer space. The company successfully launched its first spacecraft, the Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R), from the International Space Station for a 90-day mission to test software, control systems, and avionics for extraterrestrial prospecting.

What’s more, just three days after A3R launched, asteroid 2011 UW-158 was detected – due to zoom past the Earth about 1.5 million miles away (about 6 times closer than the nearest planet). Using spectroscopic analysis to measure the transmission rates of the sunlight reflected off of UW-158, scientists estimated that the approximately 1,000 feet wide asteroid could contain between $11 billion and $5 trillion worth of platinum.

This is exactly the type of asteroid Planetary Resources will be targeting in the future. Once detected, the company classified UW-158 as an "X-type" asteroid suitable for mining.

Planetary Resources may have missed this payload, but luckily, UW-158 has an orbital period of about 2.0554 years – so it won’t be long before it returns. Will Planetary Resources or another mining company be ready for it then?


500-year-old Gold Pendant Almost Sold for Scrap

Earlier this year in the U.K., a gold pendant narrowly escaped a refinery furnace when expert appraisers identified it as a 500-year-old antique worth more than £13,500 (about $20,000).

The anonymous owner of the pendant claimed to have found it while gardening 30 years ago in Dorton, Buckinghamshire. The owner was completely unaware of its value until trying to sell it alongside some other unused jewelry to a local jeweler, who recognized the pendant as potentially significant.

Buckinghamshire County Museum confirmed the find and utilized grants to buy the piece via private sale, since it was found prior to the Parliament’s 1996 Treasure Act. A religious artifact, the pendant features the annunciation of the Virgin Mary on one side, and man in bishop’s robes on the other. Museum experts believe the bishop is Thomas Becket, and the pendant is a keepsake of a pilgrimage to his tomb in Canterbury.
   
After 30 years in business, we’ve seen our fair share of strange pieces pass through the refinery. Luckily, none of it has been of historical significance. But since it’s been known to happen, we keep our eyes open while we thoroughly assay everything that comes through.


Gold Nanoparticles May Improve Radiation Treatment for Cancer

Precious metal nanoparticles have shown lots of potential for enhancing or replacing cancer treatments. For many of these treatments, getting the medicine to a very specific site within the body is key. To those ends, a team from Brown University and the University of Rhode Island have developed a proof-of-concept study that shows gold nanoparticles may improve the efficacy of radiation treatment for cancer - reducing the amount of radiation needed.
   
Malignant cancer cells are more acidic than the healthy cells around them. For this study, the team used acid-seeking pH low-insertion peptides (pHLIPs) to deliver gold nanoparticles as close to the cancer cells as possible. One of gold’s many unique properties is that it is a strong reflector of infrared radiation – one of the reasons why it’s so useful in aerospace applications. Once in position, the gold nanoparticles act like tiny antennas that concentrate the radiation for treatment in the area immediately around them. This means the radiation can do major damage to the nearby cancer cells without spreading to other tissues in the body.

The study found that irradiated cancer cells had a 24% lower survival rate in presence of pHLIP-delivered gold nanoparticles compared to those treated with radiation alone. As the study expands into human cases, it could mean a two-fold benefit for the patients – a more effective treatment that uses less radiation – reducing adverse effects.