One day, maybe in your lifetime, Earth will run out of helium. We could also have a huge shortage of clean water. And what happens if we run out of usable iron? How do we replace these vital resources? Don't panic — there's plenty more out there in space, much of it in our own solar system.
Here's our handy guide to the best places to go rip off some resources, in the solar system. Even diamonds are out there to be grabbed. Let's put that space program to work, with our shopping list for the universe!
We are told two things constantly these days: 1) We should conserve our precious resources, and 2) we should devote more time and money to the space program. And let's face it, these two goals are directly opposed to each other. Not just because the space program takes up resources, but because if we have a space program that's sufficiently advanced, we shouldn't need to conserve resources. We should be able to grab them from other worlds. Let's go through our shopping list:
When looking for water, we face the age-old question; are we willing to go the distance to do it right, or do we settle for something quick and easy nearby? Of course, being us, we'll exhaust the easy option first. The closest place to find water is the Moon. It's tough to say exactly how much is there. Ice on the Moon was discovered in a crater about twenty meters wide, which scientists estimated to have about a hundred kilograms. It's now believed that the Moon has more water on its surface than many of the drier deserts on Earth.
But you don't go to the desert to get water. Enceladus, a Moon of Saturn, is covered in ice, but a faint atmosphere around its pole has more or less proved that it has liquid water below its surface. And Europa, the smoothest object in the solar system, is entirely covered with ice. Cutting out blocks from it should be easy enough.
We could also wait for ice to come to us, since comets are covered in ice and sometimes have ice in their nucleus as well. But if we really want water, we should send an expedition to the largest source of it in the known universe. At about 12 billion light-years away, it's a trek — but we wouldn't need to go back for a long time. A quasar is twin bursts of matter spewed out by a black hole. In the case of quasar APM 08279+5255, the matter is water vapor, which is collected in gaseous clouds hundreds of light-years across. Light-years of water. That ought to sate our thirst for a while.
Helium is a pressing issue, since it's used for things like cooling medical equipment. It's only found in underground reservoirs, and floats up out of our reach when we release it into the atmosphere. We may be out of it by 2020. Helium is actually one of the rarer elements on Earth. Which is annoying, because it makes up about 24 percent of the matter in the Universe. Almost all the heavier elements are made by fusing lighter elements together inside stars. Since helium is the first thing to be made by this fusion (which starts with raw hydrogen), there's a lot of it around.