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A space rock containing over 100 million tons of platinum at its core was seen flying within 1.5 million miles of the Earth this past weekend, sparking interest in the future of space mining.

platinum asteroid

This asteroid “2011 UW-158” flyby was captured by the Slooh online observatory, using a team of telescopes located in the Canary Islands. Two live feeds were provided; one long range that showed the asteroid moving across the viewing field visible as a small white spec, the other a close up centered on the asteroid. Commentary was provided by both Slooh astronomer Bob Berman, and host Eric Edelman.

plat asteroid

A special guest appearance was made by Planetary Resources President Chris Lewicki. Planetary Resources is an asteroid mining venture – that counts Google founders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt among its backers – has its sights set on the 2011 UW-158. Due to the (relatively) close proximity of the asteroid, which is approximately six times farther than the Moon but 60 times closer than the next nearest planet, Venus, it has sparked a renewed interest in the viability of space mining.

The company has calculated the asteroid to contain about 100 million tons of pure platinum, approximately $5.4 trillion dollars’ worth. While they have also been tracking similar asteroids in our solar system, this is the one that has come the closest to the Earth.

Officials from NASA believe that futuristic space mining may be feasible as early as 2025. Asteroids would be “captured” and brought into orbit of our Moon, where space miners would be able to collect resources. NASA states that the elements present in asteroids, such as rocket fuel and water, could be gathered by future generations in the quest to explore more of our solar system.

 

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The Letseng mine in the small Kingdom of Lesotho, South Africa has just uncovered another massive diamond rough: a 198-carat stone, roughly the size of a large letseng 198 caratstrawberry.

A diamond over 100 carats is rare enough – with only about 10 to 15 found each year worldwide – but a rough that is nearly 200 carats is an exceedingly rare find. A stone of this size is expected to yield a polished diamond around 100 carats, or half the weight of the rough it originated from.

Even though the stone’s size is impressive, it is not even close to being the largest ever uncovered from the Letseng mine. In fact, the Letseng mine is well-known for churning out large, quality rough over the years, and has the highest price per carat production of all the mines in the world. Some of the largest include the Letseng mineLesotho Promise, the 15th largest diamond in the world at 603 carats; the Letseng Legacy at 493 carats, and the Leseli La Letseng at 478 carats which are 18th and 20th largest respectively.

What makes this rough even more valuable is its’ designation of Type IIa, which constitutes less than 2% of all natural diamonds. Type IIa diamonds have no measurable nitrogen impurities, making them chemically pure. This not only gives them exceptional optical transparency, but also a high likelihood of achieving a colorless (D-E-F) grade and a high clarity grade. Officials from Gem Diamonds Ltd, which own the majority stake in the Letseng mine, confirmed this after inspection of the stone noting it as “an exceptional white, high-quality diamond that displays no fluorescence”.

Martin Potts, a London-based mining analyst has estimated the 198 carat stone to fetch somewhere between $12 to $15 million.

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dom pedroThe Dom Pedro is a stunning example of March’s official birthstone, and is also the largest faceted aquamarine specimen in the world.

At 1,363 carats and nearly 36cm tall, the fantasy-cut Dom Pedro aquamarine can certainly hold its own – even when on display at the Smithsonian’s Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, which houses other highly valuable gems like the Hope Diamond and the De Young Red Diamond.

The Dom Pedro was cut from part of a meter-long, 45kg aquamarine crystal that was discovered in the 1980’s in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. While in transportation, the crystal actually fractured into three separate pieces. The two smaller pieces were eventually cut into many smaller gemstones, but the largest was kept intact as it embodied an exquisite greenish-blue hue and amazing clarity. This largest piece was sold to none other than legendary gem-cutter Bernd Munsteiner, known as the “Father of the Fantasy Cut” and “the Picasso of Gems”.

According to the Smithsonian, the first time that he laid eyes on the gem he proclaimed that it was love at first sight!

Munsteiner spent over four months studying the rough and making hundreds of sketches before he settled on the aquamarine’s dom pedro munsteinerfinal pattern. It was to be his most famous “fantasy cut” gem, a cutting technique where negative cuts are faceted into the back of a gemstone to reflect the light within.

During the six months it took to hand cut the gem, he was never concerned about the final carat weight; he opted instead to cut for beauty and brilliance, rather than price. “When you focus on the carat weight, it’s only about the money,” said Munsteiner. “I cannot create when I’m worried about the money.”

The finished masterpiece was unveiled at the 1993 Baselworld Gem Fair, and later bought by private collector Jane Mitchell and her husband Jeffrey Bland. They gifted the stone to the Smithsonian’s National Gem and Mineral Collection in 2011, and by the end of 2012 Dom Pedro was added to the permanent exhibition and continues to be a top attraction.

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kimberly diamondThe New York Museum of Natural History is having an exhibition for the rare 19th century 55 carat diamond that was once part of the Russian Crown Jewels.

The stone is named “Kimberley Diamond” after the Kimberley Mine where it was discovered in South Africa in 1868. It had been cut from a 490 carat crystal. In 1921 it turned into a 70 carat gem and later in 1958 was re-cut and improved for brilliance and proportions.  In the re-cutting process the stone lost some weight 14.92 carats. Now weighing 55.09 carats it was valued at $500,000 but is probably worth considerably more now.

Kimberly Diamond has been perfected to a champagne coloured, emerald cut, rectangular flawless diamond. It is about 1.25 inches in length. It has been described as a “cape diamond” which is an Old World term meaning “deep colour.”

In order a diamond to survive the Earth’s surface it has to get there really fast this stone got a ride on magma. Magma starts very deep in the earth and moves towards the surface at 35-40 km/h. During a volcanic eruption the magma creates bubbles like champagne and can reach speeds up to Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound).

Diamonds were first found along rivers where people would look for gold. In the 1870’s lots of diamonds were found at the bottom of rivers and streams in South Africa. They would follow the river upstream and find a grey blue rock which contained a diamond. Now days a gem the size of the Kimberley diamond wouldn’t survive in modern mining techniques it would be crushed in the process.

The diamond will be on display with “Patricia Emerald” and “The Star of India.” Patricia Emerald is a 632 carat 12 sided emerald crystal from Columbia. The Star of India is the world’s largest gem quality blue star sapphire it is 526 carats in weight and is 2 billion years old!

Kimberly Diamond is on loan from Bruce T. Stuart. The stones will be added to the Morgan Memorial hall of Gems and is on display in the NYC museum through to June 2014.

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