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What are Fossil Fuels? A Brief Overview

Did you know that fossil fuels not only come from natural gas? Oil and coal are fossil fuels also, but what’s interesting is that they were all formed from extinct plants and animals that have decayed millions of years ago. Oh! If the dinosaurs really knew how much they meant to us!

These remains are referred to as organic matter and carbon is the element that is found in all organic matter. This is how we determine what the compound is and how old it is. 

What Do Fossil Fuels Do for Us?

Times Square at NightJust look around. This is how we get our electricity, run our cars (cars that use combustion engines, not electric cars), provide power to our planes and keep us warm in the winter. There are some caveats though. One is the impact they have on the environment. Another is that once the fuel is used, you cannot reuse it again. This is known as non-renewable resources, as compared to renewable resources like wind farms and solar energy. 

Crude oil, AKA petroleum or petro is a fossil fuel in liquid form. It is made of hydrocarbons, which is a chemical compound of hydrogen and carbon. 

How is Oil Extracted?

Oil RigWe know now that it is the remains of dinosaurs that is the oil that we use for energy and we know that this oil is found way beneath the earth, so in order to extract it, oil drills must be built over this area.

It is not easy to find where the oil resides. Much testing is conducted first and sometimes found by accident. Remember the Beverly Hillbillies

Finding oil and gas trapped deep underground and drilling a well are very complicated and expensive, but the payoff is well worth it to the oil companies and the landowners (mostly municipalities and countries) where their drilling takes place make a fortune. Just take a look at the Middle-Eastern Gulf states, but closer to home, there is Texas and California, as well as Alaska, but transporting the oil to refineries and on to international distributers were restricted until recently when the President opened up the pipelines which helped advance the US economy and make America energy independent. 

How are oil and gas transported?

The oil drilling takes place on land and in the ocean. Once extracted, it is sent to the oil refineries since this fossil fuel contains lots of other compounds that need to be extracted so that the oil is pure. Large oil tanker ships as well as pipelines carry this oil to their respective refineries. 

Interestingly, there are more than 190,000 miles of pipelines in the continental United States and Alaska. They connect to refineries and chemical plants which are then delivered to terminals where the refined product is trucked to consumers. 

What is Shale Gas?

Shale gas is natural gas that is found underground in shale rock. Fracking is the process used to extract shale gas. Profound openings are bored down into the shale rock. The gas is then siphoned into the boring gaps made by the drills which created cracks in the stone, empowering the gas to flow through the breaks into wells. From that point, it is funneled away for consumer use. 

What About the Environment?

Fossil fuels are known to be major pollutants.

Smokestack showing air pollution
Photo by Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

There are ongoing, many times contentious debates about which is currently more important, advancing the US economy or diminishing the oil transport and production so that the oceans and air can become cleaner. 

During the course of debates that are leading up to the US elections, Donald Trump believes that strengthening the US economy and energy independence is most important now, as well as being able to meet the growing energy needs across the world,  but Joe Biden feels that it is too dangerous to not take into account what effect the fossil fuel production and fracking is doing to this current environment and the dangers it could possibly have in future years. 

 

12 Interesting Facts About Diamonds

Close-up of single yellow crystal diamond isolated on a white background Photo by borodayayimages.com

The stupefying, sparkly ever-so mesmerizing diamond is the most sought-after gemstone in the world and rightly so.

It is not just blindingly beautiful but also incredibly sturdy while being among the rarest gems buried deep under the Earth, so it’s only natural that people gravitate toward this earthy marvel.

Those that are moderately educated about these precious stones know about the 4-Cs of diamonds, but despite being so popular, not much is known about their history, myths and legends. If you randomly asked a person to give you facts on the gemstone, they’d most likely just tell you that it’s an exquisite stone worth millions. While there is much truth to that statement, there is a lot that is not being said.

Yes, diamonds are exotic and unquestionably treasurable, but it is also the lord of myths that add so much more to its uniqueness. But that’s not all; there are also several structural facets of diamonds that remain unknown to many. We believe that not knowing the many cultural and compositional facts regarding this dazzling mineral is a disservice to it, and we seek to right this wrong. So, here are the top twelve most unusual facts about diamonds.

Divine Tears

Perfectly cut diamond

Among the most ancient and widespread folklore about diamonds is the Roman belief that diamonds were the tears of gods.

Perhaps the heavenly beauty of the diamond seemed too delicate to be terrestrial for the Romans, so they deemed it divine.

Diamonds and Love

The ancient Romans believed that the cupid’s arrow was tipped with diamonds. This myth is considered as the oldest connection ever made between love and diamonds. Clearly, Romans were in love with this royally precious stone!

The Most Valuable Item

When we said, Romans were in love with diamonds (to be fair, who isn’t?), we meant head-over-heels irreversibly, deeply in love! Because they believed that the diamond was the most valuable thing on the planet. The famous Roman naturalist, Pliny said, “Diamond is the most valuable, not only of precious stones but of all things in this world.”

Everyone knows that diamonds are exceptionally sturdy, but what they don’t know is that the Herkimer Diamond is a direct representation of this very fact. The name ‘Diamond’ is believed to be derived from the Greek word Adamas (it is also what the Greeks called diamonds) which means indestructible or invincible.

Moreover, it is believed that diamonds are supposedly the hardest substance in the world.

Composition and Sturdiness of Diamonds

Diamond MineralDiamonds are generally made of only carbon molecules linked together in tetrahedral bonds. It is possibly why they are super stout and almost impossible to crack. In addition to giving a diamond its solid built, the carbon molecules keep it transparent. However, sometimes a specimen can have tints of other shades such as blue or yellow when there’s an inclusion. It doesn’t happen often, but when nitrogen or boron particles end up in the composition of a diamond stone, it turns a little yellow or blue. 

Eons Aged Old

Diamonds are not only the rarest and sturdiest; they are also one of the oldest gemstones that take millions of years to form under the Earth. In some cases, a diamond can be up to three million years old.

It is believed that diamonds were mined as early as the fourth century BC. Indians used to collect and trade this glorious gem, which serves as proof of the early existence of diamonds.

Diamonds and Divinity

Ancient Hindus used to tuck diamonds as the eyes on their devotional statues. They also believed that a diamond could keep a person safe from danger. In other words, traditional Hindus associated godly attributes with these gemstones.

The Largest Diamond

The largest diamond was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and was named the Cullinan diamond. It weighed 3106 carats and was gifted to King Edward. However, it was later cut up into smaller pieces, out of which three are showcased in the Tower of London as part of the Crown Jewels.

The largest diamond discovered in North America was mined from Dominion Diamond in Calgary, Canada. It has a diameter of 1.5 inches and a height of over two inches.

The First-Ever Diamond Ring

Diamond is the go-to gem for engagement rings. Whether a person is rich or poor, they make sure to get a diamond ring for their partner. But have you ever wondered who the first person to use the exotic stone on a ring was? Legend has it that, in 1477, Archduke Maxmillian of Austria gave Mary of Burgundy a gold ring with an ‘M’ on top constructed with diamonds.

Planet of Diamonds   

A round brilliant cut diamond set in a ring
A round brilliant cut diamond set in a ring  (Wikipedia)

Imagine stumbling across a world made of diamonds and no not an imaginary world, a real one, wouldn’t that be amazing? Because now you can, if you become an astronaut. In 2006, scientists discovered a planet in the solar system made of 100% carbon, and they believe that 1.3% of it is pure diamond. 

Another mind-blowing diamond-related discovery in astronomy came the form of a star, made of ten billion trillion (is that even a number?) carats. It was named Lucy after the hit Beatles song Lucy in the sky with diamonds. 

Sources of Diamond Over the Years

In the 1400s, India was the world’s original source of diamonds. Diamonds mined in India were sold to Venice and other European trade centers. However, three centuries later, in the 1700s, India’s diamond supply declined drastically and Brazil emerged as the most significant source of this precious stone. Brazil enjoyed its status as the top diamond supplier until the late 1800s, and after that, South Africa took over the title. 

However, in today’s world, many countries around the globe contribute to diamond production.

Faux Diamonds

Naturally formed diamonds take a while to acquire their shape and composition, which is one of the reasons why they are so expensive. But now experts are making diamonds under controlled conditions in laboratories. And the good news is that the quality and texture is the same as their natural counterparts, but nonetheless, they are synthetic diamonds and are not worth nearly as much as a natural diamond of the same quality and cut.

Diamonds and Healing

In medieval times, people believed that diamonds could cure ailments and nurse back the sick to health. Moreover, some kings in ancient times considered the diamond stone a talisman for soldiers that would bring victory during battles.

The Bottom Line

The extraterrestrial features associated with diamonds may or may not be true; however, its magnificence shall always remain uncontested and will remain the world standard for engagements.

 

Interesting Facts About the Earth

View of Planet Earth from Hubble Telescope

Located nearly 93 million miles or 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) away from the Sun, Earth is the largest of the terrestrial planets—or the four rocky planets closest to the Sun in our solar system. (The rest are gas giants).

This third rock from the sun is the only planet in our solar system that is not named after Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. The name Earth is at least 1,000 years old and is an English/German word that simply means ground.

It takes roughly 24 hours for the Earth to complete a full rotation, but that is gradually slowing. This deceleration is almost imperceptible, but has the effect of lengthening our days. It is happening so slowly, though, that it could be 140 million years before the length of a day increases to 25 hours.

First photo of Earth from space which shows the south polar ice cap
First photo of Earth from space which shows the south polar ice cap

The first photo of Earth from space was taken on October 24, 1946, by a V-2 test rocket launched from New Mexico. From there, we turned our attention to the closest body in our solar system: the Moon.

While the Moon, Earth’s only natural satellite, is only the fifth largest in our solar system, in terms of percentage of the size of the body it orbits, the Moon is the largest satellite of any planet in our solar system.

Astronomers hypothesize that the Moon was formed 4.5 billion years ago, not long after Earth, from the debris left over after a giant impact between Earth and a Mars-sized body.

The first unmanned spacecraft to reach the Moon was one from the Soviet Union’s Luna program in 1959, and the first manned lunar landing being Apollo 11 in 1969. The last manned spacecraft was Apollo 17 in 1972, and since then, the Moon has only been visited by unmanned spacecraft.

NASA started to plan to resume manned missions for the construction of a lunar base by 2024, but the program was canceled in favor of a manned asteroid landing by 2025 and a manned Mars orbit by 2035. But in 2019, NASA started making plans for not only going back to the moon by putting the first woman there and even more exciting, manned trips to Mars!

An Overview of Shale Gas

What is Shale Gas?

Shale gas is natural gas that is trapped within the tiny spaces of shale formations. Shale is fine-grained rocks formed from mud, silt, clay and organic matter. It is a hard, low permeable mudrock and can be a rich source of petroleum and natural gas. However, the oil and gas trapped in shale are very difficult to extract because either it is trapped in small pores or is absorbed onto clay mineral particles that form the shale.  

With advancements in technology and the use of a combination of various extraction techniques, large volumes of shale gas have been extracted over the last decade. Extraction techniques such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have allowed access to large amounts of shale which were previously uneconomical to produce. The extraction of this gas gives hope to the world where the energy demand is increasing exponentially. It is expected that the reserves of shale gas are enough to sustain the global economy for centuries. 

Shale Gas vs. Natural Gas  

Shale gas is a type of natural gas. It is a mixture of various hydrocarbon gases and consists mainly of methane. However, there is a difference in how the gas is distributed under the surface of the Earth. There is also a difference in how it is extracted from the Earth.

Natural gas reserves are formed when the gas travels towards the Earth’s surface. The gas originates from an organic-rich source into a permeable reservoir rock. This reserve of gas is trapped by another layer of rock which is impermeable. So essentially, natural gas is trapped between layers of two different types of rocks, but through vertical drilling, the natural gas is extracted. 

On the other hand, shale also forms from organic-rich sources. However, these sources are present within the shale rock. The rock is impermeable and this inhibits the gas to migrate towards the surface of the earth. As a result, the gas remains trapped within the rocks. To extract this type of gas, a combination of techniques called hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling is used. The wells are drilled horizontally. Later water, chemicals and sand are pumped into the wells to break the hydrocarbons. This process is known as hydraulic fracturing. Together, these processes allow for the extraction of the hidden resource. 

Global Reserves of Shale Gas 

There is a rising environmental concern on the extraction of shale gas. Insertion of water and chemicals into the wells can disturb the water table. It can also contaminate the potential sources of water for nearby habitats. However, considering the exponential increase in global energy demand, there is an increasing extraction of shale gas. 

It is interesting to note that many countries around the world hold large reserves of shale gas. Below is a description of the five countries which hold the largest reserves of shale gas in the world. 

China 

Shale gas exploration is a very recent practice however, it progressed very rapidly. China holds almost 770 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas reserves with more than 26.98 trillion cubic feet of proven shale gas reserves. In 2016, the overall production of shale gas in China was around 280 billion cubic feet and it is expected to reach more than 1 trillion cubic feet by 2020.

Argentina 

Argentina is known to be the largest producer of dry gas. It also holds the second-largest reserves of shale gas. The country possesses 802 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. The extraction of shale gas from Argentina began after 2013 when Chevron and YPF, a vertically integrated energy company in Argentina, signed an agreement to develop the shale gas facility in the VacaMuerta field.  

Algeria 

Algeria, the largest country in Africa and the Arab world is also the third-largest country in the world when it comes to shale gas reserves. It possesses 70 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas. Significant foreign investment from ENI, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Talisman Energy Inc. will certainly play an important role in the development of shale gas facilities in Algeria. 

US

According to the estimates, the US holds the fourth-largest reserves of shale gas following China, Argentina and Algeria. It holds 665 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. As of now, the country is producing 87 billion cubic feet of shale gas per day. This product is expected to increase further. This increase in the extraction of shale gas has provided a boom to the US economy. It is estimated that the shale gas reserves are enough to sustain the energy needs of the US economy for the next 110 years.   

Canada 

Canada is one of the largest producers of natural gas in the world. It also holds the fifth-largest reserves of shale gas. It is estimated that the country holds 573 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves. There are significant explorations in Alberta, British Columbia and New Brunswick. However, due to inadequate local infrastructure and environmental protection laws, the country is unable to capitalize on this resource so far. Given the limited population and huge reserves of shale gas, the Canadian economy can continue to rely on this resource throughout the next century. 

Conclusion 

With the depleting natural resources and ever-increasing global energy demand, shale gas is the new ray of hope for the global economy. Apart from the list of countries, there are many other countries that hold large reserves of shale gas including Mexico, Australia and South Africa. Looking at the reserves, we can safely assume that this important resource can continue to meet the global energy needs for years to come. 

The Fundamental Forces of Nature

Everything which happens around us is a result of the interaction of forces and we mean everything, from a fruit falling from a tree (Remember Isaac Newton?) to Earth orbiting around the Sun, aa matter around us interacts with other bodies around it, This phenomenon is based on four fundamental forces. 

Gravity, the weakest of the four natural forces is present in our everyday lives. It determines how and why things around us stay at a certain height and why some objects fall down, while others take longer. 

Electromagnetic forces run our electric and digital machines and allows us to access the universe from the comfort of our homes. 

The other two natural forces, namely the strong and the weak nuclear forces, operate at the atomic level. They influence the fundamental particles of an atom including the proton and electrons. 

Each of the four fundamental forces of nature has unique properties and characteristics. Every single interaction which takes place in the universe can be explained through these forces. However, there are certain interactions which appear to be bizarre and are not explained by these four forces. This raises the question of the existence of a fifth, unknown and unexplained force of nature. Physicists are still struggling to find the answer.  

Gravity – The Weakest Force of Nature

If a pen slips out of your hand, it will immediately fall down and touch the ground. For humans, gravity appears to be the strongest and most obvious force of nature. In reality, gravity is actually the weakest of the four elements. 

Simply defined, gravity is the attraction between any two objects which have a mass. The force depends upon the mass of the objects. According to the law of gravitation, the magnitude or intensity of the gravitational force can be calculated by multiplying the masses with the universal gravitational constant ‘G’. The resultant is then divided by the square of the distance between the centers of the masses. There is a different force of gravity constant for each object in the solar system and for that matter, the universe. The formula is F = G*m1*m2/r2 . One example would be the force of gravity on Earth is 9.8 meters per second squared, or 9.8 m/s2

Gravity is very weak on the atomic level, but since most objects around us have so much mass, the force of gravity becomes stronger and more apparent. The force becomes stronger and more evident for universal objects with larger masses including the planets and stars. In this case, gravity is strong enough to keep them in an orbit. When it comes to galaxies, the mass further increases and gravity plays a crucial role in attracting galaxies even when they are far apart.  

The Weak Nuclear Force 

The weak nuclear force is much stronger than the gravitational force (1010times). However, the force is only stronger within a certain range. It acts at a distance within the size of the proton. The particles which carry the weak nuclear force are called the weak vector bosons and have symbols w+, w and z0. The interaction between these particles causes one type of charged particle to turn into another type of charged particle. This interaction is responsible for phenomena such as beta and other radioactive decay

Electromagnetic Force 

The electromagnetic force is far stronger than the gravitational pull and has a much wider range than the weak nuclear force. This third strongest force of nature is 1040 times stronger than the gravitational force. An easy way to assess the strength of the electromagnetic force is to hold a magnet against a few paper clips. Gravity will attract the paper clips downwards but the electromagnetic force, which is stronger than gravity, will end up attracting the paper clips upwards. 

The electromagnetic force allows the interaction of particles with an electric charge. When the charged particles are at rest, they interact through electrostatic forces. When in motion, they mingle together through both electrical and magnetic forces. 

Though less powerful than the strong nuclear force, the electromagnetic force is by far the most prevalent force in the world. It can affect objects with a fair amount of power when they are at a reasonable distance. 

The Strong Nuclear Force

The strong nuclear force is the strongest fundamental force of nature. It is the biggest influence on the fundamental particles of the universe. It is this force which binds together the nuclei of the atom. However, the range of the strong nuclear force is only limited to subatomic particles. 

The nuclei of an atom is made up of a positively charged proton and a neutral charged neutron. Since like charges repel, each proton in the nuclei is working hard to get away from the other proton. This is where the strong nuclear force comes in. The strong force allows particles called gluons to stick together and create nucleons. These gluons can interact with other gluons and further strengthen the bond within the nuclei. The presence of the strong nuclear force is the reason why so much energy is released when the nuclei of an atom breaks down. 

The Fifth Force – Fact or Fiction 

Physicists around the world have unanimously agreed that the four fundamental forces explain every phenomenon that takes place in the universe. However, there are various mysteries of physics which cannot be explained by these four fundamental forces of nature. One such mystery is the existence of dark matter. After immense research, physicists have agreed that dark matter is a form of a stable and huge particle which experiences gravity but no other known forces. Researchers have failed to identify the reason why dark matter does not experience any force other than gravity. 

There are many ideas about why other forces do not act on the dark matter. One famous hypothesis is the presence of an unidentified fifth force. Physicists around the world are studying the possibilities of existence of a fifth fundamental force of nature. But it is too early to claim its presence.  

The Mighty Mountains

Mountains in Colorado SpringsWhat would the world look like without the peaks and glory of the mighty mountains? From the Himalayas to the Rocky Mountains, these mysterious peaks cover almost one-fifth of the Earth’s surface. 

A mountain is a land form which stretches above the land, many times in the form of a peak. Like every landscape, mountains are unique in their formation, characteristics, and the way they affect the environment.   

What are Mountains?

Mountains are generally assumed to be a giant formation of rock, but there is no universally accepted definition of a mountain. Factors like elevation, slope, and continuity define a mountainous environment. The UN Environmental Program defines a mountain as a piece of rock with at least one of the following attributes:

  • A piece of rock with an altitude of at least 2500 meters above sea level.
  • A piece of rock with an elevation of at least 1500 meters above sea level and a slope of more than 2 degrees.
  • A piece of rock with an altitude of at least 1000 meters above sea level and a slope of more than 5 degrees.
  • A piece of rock with an elevation of at least 300 meters and an elevation range of more than 7 kilometers.

The World’s Most Famous Mountains 

Mountains cover almost 24% of our planet and are scattered all around the globe, with some being underwater and the rest on the surface of the Earth. The longest mountain range is called The Mid Ocean Ridge, which is almost 65,000 kilometers long and is mostly underwater and stretches almost all around the globe.

But the world’s longest mountain range above sea level is The Andes. The Andes is 7000 kilometers long range and is located in seven countries of South America.

The most famous mountain range in the world is The Himalayas. This is because of the fact that mountain climbers try to summit the mountain peaks in this area. The range contains 3 of 5 highest mountain peaks in the world. The Himalayas include:

  • Mount Everest – The world’s highest point with a peak height of 8848 meters above sea level. It is situated in Nepal. 
  • The K-2 – The second highest point on earth and located in Pakistan.
  • Nanga Parbat – One of the most dangerous mountains to summit. Compared to Mount Everest and K2, this mountain is responsible for the highest climber death toll in the world.

It might come as a surprise, but the world’s tallest mountain is actually not Mount Everest. It is called Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea has a total height of 10,203 meters – almost 2 kilometers more than Everest, but almost 6000 meters of it are under the ocean.  It is situated on one of the islands in Hawaii and is basically an inactive volcano. 

How Are Mountains Formed?

The two known ways of mountain formation are: 

Tectonic Plates Movement

Diagram of Earth's Inner LayersThe Earth consists of six main tectonic plates, which are located in the Lithosphere (Higheset layer). These plates are continuously moving over the hot magma. They are like a jigsaw puzzle and when any of the two pieces collide with each other, they create a disturbance which, in common terms, is known as an earthquake. 

When this happens underwater, it creates a tsunami. But when this happens on land, we get earthquakes. As a result of this, these plates overlap each other and create uphill surfaces known as mountains. An interesting fact about The Himalayas is that the process of the creation of these mountains started about 55 million years ago and the range is continuously growing because of these continuous tectonic movements.

Volcanic Activity

Some mountains are formed by the movement of these tectonic plates, but others are formed by volcanic eruptions. 

Volcanoes are basically openings in our planet that are directly connected to the hot magma which is flowing under it. Whenever a volcano erupts, it lets go of lava (hot magma), gas, ash, and solid rocks. With the continuous release of lava over time (volcanic eruptions), a solid block is formed. This happens when the hot lava cools down. With this continuous release over time, a cliff or a mountain is formed.  Mauna Kea in Hawaii and Mount Fuji in Japan are examples of volcanic mountains.

Characteristics of Mountains

Capital Reef National Park
Capital Reef National Park, Utah

All mountain systems share a common characteristic of height. Other than that, the mountain ranges supply almost 80% of all the spring water present on earth. This spring water comes from the melting of ice that is present on the peaks of these mountains.

Mountain ranges are home to several living creatures as well. Around 10,000 species of animals and plants are found on the different mountain ranges around the globe. Moreover, not just plants and animals, but 10% of the world’s human population lives on various mountain ranges. They earn a living on these mountains by growing and selling various types of vegetation. 

How Do Mountains Affect the Environment?

Mountains are not just bumps on the earth which serve as geographical borders and adventure hubs for climbers. They have a wider impact on the environment. 

Mountains divert the flow of wind on the surface, and the effect can be seen not only in the vicinity but far, far away. The higher you go up a mountain, the thinner the air gets, and there are more chances of rain. Also, as the weather gets cooler, and there is a higher probability of snowfall. This snowfall forces the air to become cooler, and the whole area enjoys lower temperatures. When the snow from the mountains melts in the summer, it provides an ample supply of natural spring water. This is the reason why valleys are more wet and green. 

Elevation and depression play an important role in the absorption of carbon dioxide. The green valley absorbs the carbon dioxide in our system, hence creating a positive impact on the environment. Mountains play an important role in the ecosystem, and hence, they are much more than just an elevated piece of rock.

Opal Demand is Soaring as Australian Mines Struggle to Keep up with Demand

Opal Mines in AustraliaEven in the opal-rich fields of South Australia, one needs luck, months and even years of patience to come across this rare gem. Potential miners spend hours in the sun waiting for a fortune that can be made on the sale of opal. The market for larger pieces of opal can go north of $1 million because of high demand from jewelers and fashion brands.

South Australia is the producer of over 80% of the opals currently circulating in the market. But even then, finding opal stones is extremely rare. The town associated with opal mining is Copper Bend where many of these gems are found in the surrounding areas. Currently, the population of the town stands at 3,500. However, at the height of the mining, thousands of miners lived in the town where summer temperatures can go up to 116° F (47° C). There are still massive profits to be made, thanks to the high demand from fashion brands and countries like China and India.

A Rise in Demand

The depletion of opal mines is making it harder for South Australian miners to keep up with high demand from Chinese and Indian buyers who keep on placing large orders for export.

The locals have been frustrated as the price of the precious gem has gone through the roof and Chinese and Indian buyers are flooding the market for requests. There is not enough opal to export as no new mines are being discovered.

The local mining population has started its own exploration but only managed to find satellite mines so far. These small mines are only capable of producing opals worth $2 to $3 million whereas the locals estimate they need about $200 to $300 million worth to fulfill demand and bring back the old mining towns to their former glory.

A Darling of the Fashion World

Opals are making their way back to the fashion limelight as they are being used by both old timers and upcoming designers to distinguish their work from the competition.

Though opals were first discovered in the 1800s in Australia, it was not until the 1990s that their market price started gaining more momentum, helped mostly by a surge in European demand at the time.

Opal carries with a sense of individuality and creativity, two characteristics that are highly sought after in the fashion world. Compared to colored diamonds, rubies, and blue sapphires that have sky-high prices and are out of reach for many people, opals come as an equally dazzling alternative. Furthermore, all the opals in Australia are mined ethically. As ethical sourcing is becoming a huge concern for the next generation of jewelry buyers, Australian opals are being considered more desirable.

What Needs to be Done

Most miners from South Australia believe that the surface of opal mining has not even been scratched yet. There needs to be a more robust government policy to ramp-up investment in opal mining and exploration which miners feel a lack of government support.

However, the government has its own reasons for not giving enough support to middle and small-scale miners. A report identifies the following reasons for not providing more to support to the opal mining industry.

    • Tax evasion on a large scale by small miners which forces the government to ignore their needs as they believe taxpayer money could be spent better.
    • The lack of unity amongst the mining community on how the industry should be supported is also an issue, preventing the miners from lobbying collectively.
    • Australia is rich in minerals and stones such as gold, iron, and ore. It receives royalties from these industries, unlike opal mining which requires no royalty payments to the government.
  • The government believes that the potential of opal is not worth the time and money as other resources like nickel and gold yield better returns.

A lack of unity by the miners and a lack of interest by the Australian government are creating a situation where the supply of opal might dwindle from Australia. Of course, this is good news for sellers, hoarders, and other countries that have opal mines as the loss of a major supplier would drive up prices. But the problem for small-scale Australian miners and opal cutter would just exacerbate as they are being neglected.

Immediate steps are necessary to be undertaken by the government if the opal mining industry in Australia is to be saved from doom. Investment and explorations of new mines and new mining equipment are needed as well as subsidies.

From the part of the miners, a more united front for stronger lobbying efforts are required if they want the government to focus on a dying industry.

Factors Behind Undervalued Silver

Close up of Silver CoinsSilver is perhaps the most overlooked precious metal, as most people tend to focus more on gold and platinum. However, it has most of the same properties as gold, and even offers important technological and electronic applications.  

The first reported mining of silver took place in 3,000 BC in the regions where Turkey and Greece are located. Silver was first used as a currency in the form of coins in Greece around 400 BC, but it was the Spanish conquests of South America that saw a drastic shift in silver production, which lead to three countries, Mexico, Peru and Bolivia producing over 85%of the world’s supply.  

Demand for Silver

Silver is one of the most versatile metals in the world and is used in many applications. It is the second-most tensile and malleable metal after gold. A single ounce of silver can be molded into 8,000 feet of wire.

Industrial and technological usage account for over half of the demand for silver annually which is due to its versatile nature. Here are some applications which depend on silver:  

Industrial Applications

Silver is one of the best conductors of heat and electricity which makes it viable for use in many electrical applications. It is the primary element used in the production of solar panels. The metal is also heavily used in the automobile sector.

Jewelry

Few metals are better suited for jewelry than silver, which is what drives up demand in this sector. Shiny and resilient, the metal is quite easily molded into shapes, requires less upkeep and can last a long time.

Coins

Silver was once the most widely used form of currency in the shape of coins. It was used globally as an accepted medium of exchange until it was phased out gradually in the 19th Century.

Silverware

Silver has been the standard bearer for decor and cutlery since the 14th Century. Silverware lasts for generations and does not corrode.

Is Silver Undervalued

While gold netted a decent return of 13% in 2017, silver gave out a consistently negative return. Over the course of the last seven years, the price of silver has dropped significantly from $35 an ounce in 2011 to $14 an ounce in 2018.

Even if silver is not in the same category of precious metals such as gold, the demand and supply forces dictate that the price should be much higher, especially because of its high demand in industrial usage and a weak dollar. This meant that all commodities gave a decent return except silver.

Here are some possible reasons as to why the value of silver should be higher than the current market price.

Strong Demand

Silver has many different applications and some analysts suggest that price is artificially low. Each year, new innovations are discovered regarding the usage of silver because of its unique chemical properties. Applications from biotech to electronics all use silver and there is a concern that there is not enough silver left to fulfill all the demand.

Supply Deficiency

The production of silver has struggled to meet with the surging demand. In 2017 alone, the supply of silver fell short by 32.5 million ounces, while the year before, the shortage was recorded to be 17.14 million ounces.

Despite this shortfall in supply, the price further decreased for the given years which goes against the basic economic principle of demand and supply: prices rise when demand increases and supply reduces. This led market analysts to speculate that silver was undervalued, as prices remained low even as demand outpaced supply.

The Gold-Silver Ratio

The gold-silver ratio is a measurement of how many ounces of silver does it take to purchase an ounce of gold. Historically the average of this ratio has always been 12:1. This means it takes 12 ounces of silver to buy 1 ounce of gold. The current ratio is 83:1 implying that the market price of silver is massively undervalued.

Reasons to Buy Silver

Silver appears to be a great buy for investors at the moment because of it being relatively underpriced as compared to other metals; however, there isn’t a lot of capital tied up in silver compared to gold. Furthermore silver can meet small financial needs in case of an emergency as it can be easily broken down into smaller denominations. Also silver coins and bars can be sold almost anywhere in the world.

As world inventories of silver have fallen thanks to a surging demand and a falling supply, a fact has been established from data observation over the past fifty years. Since silver is a small market, small money movements have a great impact on price which implies high volatility. A great volatility means that silver can fall more than gold in bearish markets but the opposite stands true for bull markets.

With observation and a little knowledge, you can clock in at the right time to buy silver when it is at an all-time low currently and reap in the profits when prices take off. As of the writing of this article, the price of silver is $15.31.

One of the biggest banks on Wall Street, JPMorgan identified this opportunity in 2011 by buying silver in great numbers. Reports of the bank having accumulated more than 600 million ounces of physical silver at their warehouse, implies a changing trend. Silver prices appear to be at an all-time low and a bank on Wall Street accumulating a huge stash of the metal is not for nothing.  

Commodities are all priced in dollars and depreciation in USD means that the prices of all commodities are rising, except silver. With a massive hoard of silver in their warehouse, JPMorgan is likely to have predicted a spike in the price of silver much quicker than the rest of us.

Earth’s Oldest Rock Found on the Moon

The Moon RockA rock from Earth on the moon! How can this be? Aliens? Well, not so fast, as there is a logical explanation as to how this happened.

Let’s start with a little history of the Apollo space program. The objective of the program was to facilitate human landings on the Moon as well as the astronaut’s safe return. The program consisted of six missions, namely Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15 16 and 17 (the ascending numbering is in the chronological order).   

The Apollo 14 Mission went to the moon in 1971 and explored its Cone Crater. The astronauts on the excruciation also brought some rocks, which were arbitrarily picked from the crater.  All the lunar specimens brought back to the Earth have been inspected and studied to not only understand planet Earth’s lone natural satellite but also the planet itself. Scientists have also been studying them in connection with the evolution of our own planet.

In one such study, astronauts have put forward some amazing inference regarding one of the lunar relics collected by the Apollo 14 team. According to the team of geologists and astronauts analyzing the specimens brought by the Apollo 14 mission, one of the rock specimens was actually a four-billion-year-old chunk from planet Earth!

If this deduction is further established in the future, then this specimen will easily become Earth’s oldest rock.  You may be wondering how on earth (pun intentional) a rock from this planet ended up on the moon. Before your mind starts weaving conspiracy theories regarding extraterrestrial phenomena, we are going to burst the bubble of how this terrestrial rock ended up on the moon, leading us to an astonishing tale of this stone ’s journey from the Earth to the moon and back.

An Asteroid or Comet Impact: The Initial Point of This Journey

Billions of years ago, when life hadn’t materialized on Earth, the collision of large asteroids and comets with our planet was pretty common. Scientists believe that this terrestrial rock ended up on the moon, due to such impact.

According to their hypothesis, a large comet or asteroid collided with Earth that resulted in the splatter of rocks from the Earth’s crust into the outer space, similar to splashes from a water-filled glass when an ice cube hits its surface.

These rocky splashes scattered into outer space and some of them landed on the Moon. It is important to mention that the moon was three times closer to the Earth then it is now. On the moon, these Earth specimens eventually got mixed up and buried with other lunar substances.

Why Scientists Are So Sure About the Terrestrial Origin of the Stone?

This is the first time when scientists have made such an astounding claim regarding any lunar specimen. Moreover, they are quite confident of the veracity of their hypothesis. The main reason for this confidence is the presence of mineral traces in the rock.

Geological Makeup of the Moon is Free of Minerals

Apollo 14 Saturn V rocket blasting off
Apollo 14 Saturn V rocket lifts off for the moon

The geological studies about the lunar crust have shown that it’s underneath environment is not suitable for the formation of minerals like the inner layers of the Earth’s crust. Scientists believe that minerals might be part of the core of the moon and they are really sure that the sample in question is not from that innermost layer of the natural satellite.  

Zircon, Feldspar, and Quartz Are Present in the Rock

Scientists have identified traces of zircon, feldspar, and quartz in the rock. This discovery is the foundation of an hypothesis that this rock has splashed on the moon from the Earth. These minerals are fairly common within the Earth’s crust. However, no other lunar specimen contains any minerals, let alone these three distinctive gem minerals. It will be fitting to have a brief discussion of these three minerals.  

Zircon: As the name suggests, zircon is the silicate compound of the zirconium element. Some fine specimens of this stone are used as diamond simulants. From transparent options to purple and pink, zircon has an entire array of natural colors that depends on the type of impurity it contains. Some zircon specimens also contain radioactive traces. Such specimens undergo the process of metamictization before the gemological faceting and processing.

Feldspar: This tectosilicate mineral makes up more than 41% of the Earth’s crust in the form of many sub-minerals. From typical rock-like structures to gems such as olivine, a whole range of unique mineral specimens are part of feldspar family. Scientists are yet to disclose which type of feldspar traces have been detected on that terrestrial-lunar rock.

Quartz: Quartz is one of the most abundant minerals present in the Earth’s crust. It has many different uses. Some fine quartz crystals are used in the manufacturing of ornamental items. On the other hand, it is also used in many electronic and mechanical devices due to its piezoelectric properties. On Earth, it is found in nearly every mineral environment. But on the moon, there is no sign of this mineral at all.

The Possible Explanation

The Cone crater from where the Apollo 14 team picked that stone was created some 26 million years ago. Craters are formed when small celestial bodies collide with planetary bodies in high velocities. So, the impact that created the Cone crater actually resulted in the excavation of rocks buried under the lunar surface. The Apollo 14 team just picked one of those excavated rocks among which one had terrestrial mineral traces.

Pre-Lunar Journey of the Stone

Scientists believe that the rock with all its mineral traces was created approximately 20 kilometers beneath the Earth’s surface. According to their studies, the Earth’s crust was the budding ground of mineral formation four billion years ago.

This discovery has also given traction to another conjecture that the entire Earth’s crust had a similar composition with traces of different minerals before the manifestation of biological life on the planet. However, this theory doesn’t have much logical backing in its favor to be taken as a serious scientific assertion.

Rarest of the Rare: Unique Gemstones of the World

Alexandrite Mineral
Alexandrite (variety of chrysoberyl)

In all the naturally occurring substances, gemstones catch our attention the most. Due to their color, shapes, sizes and textures, gemstones are intrinsically rare and always an eyecatcher. And among all the elite and rare stone types, there are some which are considered as the rarest due to their scarcity of nature.

Let’s find out some details about these gemstones that are the rarest of the rare.

Alexandrite: Emerald by Day, Ruby by Night

Named after the Russian tsar Alexander-II, Alexandrite belongs to the family of Chrysoberyl family. It was first found in the Ural Mountain range in Russia in early 18th century. Due to some digression from Chrysoberyl minerals, it became one of the rarest gemstones on the face of the earth. Alexandrite is famous for exhibiting hues of emerald and ruby when seen in the presence of light and darkness respectively.

When it shines under different light sources, it appears with different shades of green, magenta and blue which clearly indicate that Alexandrite possesses splendid color features. The impurities of iron, titanium and chromium are supposed to be the reason why it stands alone among all the other Chrysoberyl gemstones.

Tanzanite: A Gift from Foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro 

This gemstone belongs to the family of zoisite gemstones with blue color. The rarity of this stone can be understood by the fact that the only known deposit of this stone is found in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Northern Tanzania. Therefore, this zoisite gem is even named after the country.

The bluish-purple stones are found and mined in decades, and therefore it is considered rarer than diamonds. Tanzanite also exhibits different hues under different crystal orientations and light conditions.

Red Diamonds: A Rare Tale of Romance

The combination of red color and diamond stone can be the ultimate gesture of love. Red diamonds are considered to be the fanciest and rarest diamonds. Unlike other fancy diamonds which get their color from different impurities, diamonds get red hue due to a rare bend in its atomic structure known as plastic deformation. There are very few red diamonds in the world (some estimates suggest that only 30 diamonds exist with such color formation).

Grandidierite: Madagascar’s Another Natural Offering

Grandidierites are extremely rare gemstones only found in very few places such as Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Namibia. They were first discovered in Madagascar in the early 19th century by a French mineralogist and named after Alfred Grandidier who is thought to be the first authority on the natural history of the region.

Grandidierite comes in bluish green color patterns, shades which come from the tinge of iron impurities in it. They come in orthorhombic crystal structures. The typical rare Grandidierite appears completely transparent.

Poudretteite: An Exquisite Pink Gem

Poudretteite was first discovered in Canada and named after the family which operates the quarry from which this stone was discovered. Even after more than 50 years, it can only be found in two locations in Canada and Myanmar which makes this gemstone incredibly rare.

The color of Poudretteite depends on the optical phenomenon in which different the color appears when observed at different angles. However, Poudretteite shows light pink and purple hues mostly. Manganese is the color giving element present in Poudretteite, so the color saturation depends on the amount of Manganese present in the stone’s crystal structure.

Benitoite:  A Californian Rarity

Benitoite is a rare gemstone that is extracted from the only and limited deposit near San Benito River in California. It was discovered in 1907. Benitoite comes in blue and purple shades and glows like blue chalk when put under UV light.

Due to its unavailability, Benitoite is not used as a typical gemstone in jewelry items. It is almost impossible to find in the open market and is usually part of rare gem collections.

Musgravite: Distinctive among all the Taaffeite

Musgravite is a rare oxide gemstone belonging to the family of Taaffeite gemstones. Musgravite was first discovered in the Musgrave Range of South Australia. It is very difficult to differentiate them from all the other Taaffeite stones and only an expert can do this. Musgravite exists in grey, mauve, grey purple and light olive green shades.