Sunday, July 02, 2006

Kuiper Belt Resources

For decades, it has been believed that the original Asteroid Belt represented the ultimate resource base in the Solar System. In TMP, it was stated in the Solaria chapter that the original Asteroid Belt contains enough resources to sustain 7500 trillion (7.5 quadrillion) people. The book Mining The Sky states that that Asteroid Belt has enough iron (and other resources) to meet the needs of 10 quadrillion people, and that the Greek and Trojan asteroids (which lie 60 degrees ahead and behind Jupiter in its orbit). may contain 4 times as many asteroids as the main belt. These asteroids "appear to be supercarbonaceous" which means more life-sustaining volatiles such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. That resource should then be able to sustain more than 40 quadrillion people.

But these books are now obsolete because of the newly discovered Kuiper Belt. As it turned out, the Solar System does not have one asteroid belt, but two. The second one begins just beyond the orbit of Neptune. It is composed mainly of iceteroids (comets). Neptune's Triton is a captured Kuiper Belt object, and Pluto and Charon are also Kuiper Belt object. Clearly, this belt has objects far larger than those in the main belt. Many are nearly the size of Pluto such as Sedna and Quaoar. 2003 UB313 is even larger than Pluto.

Just the fact that the circumference of the Kuiper Belt far exceeds that of the main belt should give you a clue that the Kuiper Belt might have much more resources than the main belt. But how much? It is estimated that the asteroid belt contains 4% of the mass of the Moon. The Kuiper Belt has a total mass estimated to be between 0.5 and 30 times the mass of Earth. That means that the Kuiper Belt has between 1,000 and 60,000 times the mass of the asteroid belt. While the asteroid belt can sustain a human population numbering in the quadrillions, the Kuiper Belt will have a human population in the quintillions. Also, keep in mind that this far out, most of the mass is volatiles anyway. So that might mean that the Kuiper Belt can have a population numbering in the sextillions.


  1. Is this a new discovery, Robert?

  2. This discovery is rather new. I should've provided a link to the Wikipedia article, but I will edit the post to show this. As that entry says, "The first astronomers to suggest the existence of this belt were Frederick C. Leonard in 1930 and Kenneth E. Edgeworth in 1943. In 1951 Gerard Kuiper suggested that the belt was the source of short period comets (those having an orbital period of less than 200 years). More detailed conjectures about objects in the belt were done by Al G. W. Cameron in 1962, Fred L. Whipple in 1964, and Julio Fernandez in 1980. The belt and the objects in it were named after Kuiper after the discovery of (15760) 1992 QB1." So it has been theorized for many decades, but the discovery of the first object occurred in 1992.

  3. It's true that the resources are out there.

    But it seems that getting raw materials is only a tenth the economic battle to turn them into useful products. Most of our effort, attention, and energy goes into making things out of the raw materials, rather than acquiring them. I think that once the hurdle of being able to use and make things out of the bare rocks and chemicals in space is overcome, the exact celestial body you draw your rocks and minerals from is no object.

  4. Anonymous6:17 AM

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