Most people understand gold in terms of wealth and investments, but there is so much more to say about the precious metal. It has a long history as a currency and as a symbol of great power. Today, gold’s unique qualities have expanded its role as a conductive material, a decorative accent, and a favorite among mineral and coin collectors. Here are some facts about gold that you may not know.
1. When the Spaniards landed in Peru in 1532, the Incan Empire owned one of the largest collections of gold in the world. The conquistadores captured the Incan king Atahuallpa, who offered them a ransom: he’d fill a 22-by-18-foot room with gold as high as he could reach. But the Spanish still killed him.
2. In 1799, Conrad Reed found a 17-pound lump of gold on his father’s North Carolina farm—the first documented discovery of gold in the US. The family used the rock as a doorstop for three years before a local jeweller came upon it and recognized its value. He bought it from Reed’s father for $3.50, less than 1/1000 of its value. When Reed realized this, he started the first commercial gold mine in the US.
3. In Goldfinger, the film crew left bare a small area on Shirley Eaton’s stomach when they covered her in gold pain, but despite what 007 told us, there is no such thing as “skin suffocation.”
4. Gold is extremely shapeable and ductile. You can beat a one-ounce piece into a translucent sheet five-millionths of an inch thick, or you draw it out into 50 miles of five-micrometers-thick wire—that’s just one-tenth the diameter of a human hair!
5. The precious metal is virtually indestructible, and it has been highly valued throughout history. Humans have therefore always recycled it. In fact, close to 85 percent of all the gold ever found is still being used today.
6. Thin gold foil was wrapped around the Apollo lunar landing modules to protect the astronauts against radiation. Today, a thin gold film is still used on astronauts’ visors
7. In Australia, researchers have discovered a kind of microorganism that “eats” trace amounts of gold embedded in rocks, and the critters then deposit the metal into larger nuggets. Mining companies are researching ways to use the microorganism instead of cyanide to pull gold from the ore, which would be much more environmentally friendly.
8. The largest reservoirs of gold on the surface of our planet are the oceans. Unfortunately, there is no practical way to extract the estimated 10 billion tons contained in our oceans.
9. In 1999, the NEAR spacecraft discovered that the asteroid Eros contains more gold than has ever been mined on Earth.
10. But calm down, space cowboys: We can’t retrieve that gold either.