RELATED VIDEOS

Share

Which Planet Is Most Valuable? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
The solar system is is full of rare and valuable resources, but which planet is the most valuable of them all? In this video, Unveiled discovers how the human race is hoping to convert the solar system into money. Lots and lots of money... But the plans for the future are surprising, and not at all what you would expect!
Transcript

Which Planet is the Most Valuable?


When it comes to space exploration, there’s one question which continually comes up; what’s in it for us? Apart from the thrill of exploring a new planet, of studying an unknown world, what is there to make such a long and expensive endeavour financially worthwhile? It’s harder to quantify than you might think.

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; which planet is most valuable?

Since Earth is the only planet in our solar system where the concept of “value” actually means anything, perhaps you’d argue that Earth is most valuable by default. Its resources have been fuelling humanity for thousands of years, after all, even if many of those resources are now running out. In fact, it’s largely because we’re running low on fuel that we’re even sizing up the other planets at all, with cosmologically driven dollar signs in our eyes! Earthly fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas are, of course, finite… which means we have to turn to either renewable sources of energy, or to brand new fossil fuel reserves - both of which could be found on other worlds.

Let’s start closest to home. While clearly not a planet, the moon is rich in plenty of resources, like silicon, iron, titanium, magnesium, and aluminium, as well as large quantities of water ice - all of which we could make good use of. For many, though, the most vital lunar resource is the rare helium-3, which could potentially be used in nuclear fusion. Moon mining isn’t all profits and happiness, mind. While potentially lucrative, there are consequences. Many people plain disagree with stripping the moon of all that we need, because haven’t we already significantly damaged our own planet by doing the same thing? Given that the moon is so culturally significant, shouldn’t we be aiming to preserve it, rather than deplete it? Helium-3 isn’t an endless goldmine, either. It’s also a limited supply that would one day run out. We might temporarily solve our energy problems with it, but we’d perhaps be best to spend our time and money developing renewables back here on Earth, before mounting what would quickly be dubbed “The Moon Rush”.

As for actual planets, first out from the sun is Mercury. It’s one of the most mysterious of all solar system worlds, and if it wasn’t for the MESSENGER probe (which orbited it for four years between 2011 and 2015) we really wouldn’t know much about it at all. We do know that its dark surface is because there’s a large amount of carbon present, which we could use (though we’d likely never need to travel all the way to Mercury just to get carbon!). We also know that there’s a magnetic field here, an atmosphere, and temperate polar ice caps… meaning that despite Mercury’s close proximity to the sun, it would (theoretically) be possible for humans to mine there. More specifically, we’d probably mine for iron, which Mercury is thought to have huge amounts of. Asteroids also contain valuable iron ores, but Mercury would represent a much more stable and reliable mining field. Of course, the other big financial incentive with Mercury is solar power. With it so close to the sun, we could cover Mercury in solar panels to collect energy, which we could then use to power spacecraft leaving the planet and traveling back to Earth.

Next, Venus, where there are plenty of well-known obstacles. Chief among them is the surface in general, which is incredibly hot at around 880 degrees Fahrenheit, and loaded with CO2 and sulphuric acid. This isn’t just bad news for humans, but also for any robots and machinery we might use to collect resources remotely. Most of everything gets fried, which means building any kind of mining rig would be incredibly difficult from the outset. As for the resources that are actually available, however, it might well be worth working out the considerable complexities to get there… Because Venus is so similar to Earth in size and structure, we think it probably has similar resources to us, too. And, it might also be a source of hydrogen-2, a dense hydrogen isotope which could double up as fuel.

Regardless, it’s Mars that we appear most likely to actually visit first… so what will we find on the Red Planet when we get there? Well, Mars has volcanic activity and, as a result, plenty of ore deposits for all kinds of valuable elements including titanium, calcium and aluminium - plus another high volume of iron to give this planet its distinct colour. Mars’s low gravity and an incredibly thin atmosphere arguably make it a difficult home for humanity, but we’ve already had robots roaming its landscapes for years. In the future, we may well see decades of remote resource gathering (and even facility building) using AI, just to prepare Mars for human settlers… meaning that it would take a long time to reap any kind of return on a big investment. But no other planet in the solar system right now carries quite as much prestige as Mars seemingly does, and you just can’t put a price tag on converting the first “second planet” for the human race.

With Jupiter, though, the first of the gas giants and the largest planet of all, there are even more possibilities. If we developed a way to extract resources from any of the outer four, gaseous planets, then we’d have a seemingly endless supply of hydrogen. The atmosphere on Jupiter itself is ninety percent hydrogen, something which we use today in the manufacture of everything from food to electronics. Jupiter’s probably rocky core is potentially made out valuable ice and minerals, too, but the problem is getting there. As you travel further and further toward it, the weight of all that gas would crush you long before you even saw the core - let along set up a mining post on it. What makes Jupiter most interesting (and financially enticing), then, are its many, many moons. Ganymede is actually the largest moon in the entire solar system (larger than Mercury, in fact), but it’s Io and Europa which tend to draw more attention. Io is very volcanically active, which makes it equal parts intriguing (in terms of the elements it could host) and dangerous (in terms of ever getting close to them). Meanwhile, it’s long been suspected that Europa holds a rich, subsurface ocean, which could even host alien life of its own - a truly priceless discovery if it were ever made.

Moving out, and Saturn’s outer atmosphere is made up of ninety-six percent hydrogen, again making it valuable as a potential fuel source. Saturn is also famed for its rings and, while all four gas giants do have ring systems, Saturn’s are the biggest and brightest. They’re made almost entirely out of ice as well, so again, they double as a water source. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Saturn, however, in relation to resources and potential value, is Titan. Like Jupiter’s Europa, Titan (Saturn’s largest moon) has subsurface oceans that researchers think could be hosting alien life. But Titan also has its own atmosphere and boasts the most hydrocarbons of anywhere in the solar system. With hydrocarbons being the organic compounds at the heart of most combustible fuels, and with Titan having hundreds of times more hydrocarbons than even Earth does, it’s no wonder that some of our most ambitious space exploration schemes have Titan in their sights.

Finally, the “ice giants”, Uranus and Neptune which, as their name suggests, are both primarily made up of different ices – water ice, ammonia ice, and methane ice. Both, then, offer potentially boundless fuel supplies, and both also have lots of moons to explore… but the excitement around Uranus and Neptune hasn’t yet grown to match anything surrounding the other solar system locations - especially Titan. Perhaps the biggest pull from a financial standpoint to visit these two would be to investigate Neptune’s strange colour. Both it and Uranus are blue, but Neptune is such a vivid and distinct shade of blue that some scientists think there might be a “secret” element hiding there - to cause this mysterious hue. For now, though, who knows what it is, if it exists, or if it could be monetised!

Clearly, traveling the solar system so thoroughly is still the stuff of dreams, only. And if we ever could make the trip, then it’d surely cost an inordinate amount of money. But, theoretically speaking, pricing up the planets is something which can be done. For renewables, it’s hard to pass up Mercury as the pinnacle of solar power. Elsewhere, there’s Mars, which is resource-rich and demands a far shorter commute. But perhaps the most valuable parts of the solar system aren’t actually planets at all… It’s the moons that are getting people most excited now, most notably Europa and Titan.
Comments