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ERG Chech 002: Earth's oldest space rock

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Space Exploration, Space Mining, Space Resources

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What is Erg Chech 002 and why is it important?

Erg Chech 002 is a space rock that fell in the Sahara desert in Algeria in May 2020. It is an achondrite, i.e. a meteorite that was formed by fusion on another planet or asteroid. 

What makes this rock special is that it is the oldest rock ever found on Earth, with an age of 4,565 million years..

This means that it formed shortly after the birth of the Solar System, some 4,567 million years ago.

Erg Chech 002 contains valuable information on the origin and evolution of the Solar System, as it preserves the chemical composition and isotopic fingerprints of the first materials that formed in the solar nebula.

It also contains elements such as aluminum-26, a radioactive isotope that was an important source of heat for the growth of the planets..

How was its age discovered and calculated?

Erg Chech 002 was discovered by a group of amateur meteorite hunters, who found it in an erg (or sand sea) in the Sahara desert. 

The rock weighs about 32 kilograms and has an irregular shape, with green and black crystals embedded in its surface.

To determine its age, an international team of scientists used a technique called lead-lead dating, which is based on measuring the ratios of lead isotopes (lead-206 and lead-207) produced by the decay of uranium (uranium-235 and uranium-238). 

By comparing these proportions with those of other meteorites and terrestrial rocks, scientists were able to estimate the age of Erg Chech 002 with unprecedented accuracy..

How is Erg Chech 002 related to astromining and space missions?

Erg Chech 002 is an example of how meteorites can be a source of mineral resources for mankind. 

According to some experts, asteroids are real floating mines waiting to be conquered..

Some of them contain precious metals such as gold, platinum or palladium, as well as scarce elements necessary for technological development, such as iron, nickel or cobalt.

The astromining is the name given to the activity of exploring and exploiting the mineral resources of asteroids and other celestial bodies. 

It is an emerging field that poses new challenges and opportunities for science, technology, industry and society.

Some countries such as the United States, China, Japan and India are already working on projects to start space mining..

In order to perform astromining, space missions are required to study and access asteroids.

Some of these missions have already been carried out or are in progress, such as the Hayabusa (Japan), OSIRIS-REx (United States) or Chang'e 5 (China) probes, which have succeeded in collecting samples from asteroids or the Moon..

Other missions are planned for the coming years, such as the Psyche (United States), Hera (Europe) or Destiny+ (Japan) probes, which aim to explore metallic or binary asteroids..