What minerals can we find in martian soil? Or what rare minerals can we find on our planet and can be placed beneath Mars? How deep, how much, and most important: how precious. I really appreciate charts, and numbers.

I'm making a clone of an old game: Motherload. And since I always preferred realism, I want to include real minerals instead of imaginary ones.

  • $\begingroup$ Not sure how detailed the answers you will get here will be, but it might be worth looking at Dwarf Fortress. There's been a ton of research done to enhance the realism of the minerals found there. $\endgroup$ – Bryon Apr 2 '15 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Do you want to know the minerals or the elements encountered on Mars? $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Apr 2 '15 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Bryon , do you have any good sources about it? $\endgroup$ – not7CD Apr 2 '15 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim2B , Anything, but from game play side of view, mining elements would be boring $\endgroup$ – not7CD Apr 2 '15 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, Motherload. That was a great game. Except when someone told me there was a town in the sky, and I took a good ten minutes flying straight up trying to find it. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Apr 2 '15 at 16:33

General Mineral Availability
You will definitely find many of the same minerals as on Earth. Also all the elements will be present on the surface. However, on Earth we don't process soil to extract its gold, it's not worth the effort. Instead we look for natural concentrations of the mineral we want. Some of these concentrations are done volcanically, others through sedimentation, and some through the actions of life forms.

So if you're willing to put the effort and energy into it, you can get everything you need from processing the Martian soil.

Ore Types
If you're interested in large scale operations for a robust Martian colony, then you'll need to find concentrations of the minerals / elements that you want.

Depending upon location and from a rock / ore perspective, you'll have access to

  1. All of the volcanic rocks and the ores that go with it. These are where we find precious metals.
  2. Some sedimentary rocks. Iron deposits were placed here by biological processes.
  3. You can conceivable find very high metallic concentrations at the bottom of some of the smaller craters. Meteorites that formed large craters are completely vaporized.

Here's a detailed examination of Martian surface mineralogy

If you have questions about specific elements, minerals, or ores we can try to put together plausible details.

Rare Earth Elements (REE)
From a gaming perspective, you might use the Rare Earth Elements. The elements are exotic sounding and some of them are quite valuable - which equals difficult to extract. These (also abbreviates as REE) can be found almost everywhere but they're expensive to extract. You could posit that Mars' soil has much higher concentrations of these elements than Earth. For example on Earth the average concentration for these is like 50 parts / million. On the moon it's more like 5 parts / thousand.

These elements are named:

  • Yttrium
  • Lanthanum
  • Cerium
  • Praseodymium
  • Neodymium
  • Promethium
  • Samarium
  • Eropium
  • Gadolinium
  • Terbium
  • Dysprosium
  • Holmium
  • Erbium
  • Thulium
  • Ytterbium
  • Lutetium

They are worth \$5.00 - \$500.00 per gram (1/10x - 10x) the price of Platinum, with Promethium being the rarest and most expensive

Platinum Group Elements (PGE)
And asteroids/meteors tend to have higher concentrations of the Platinum Group Elements:

  • Iridium
  • Osmium
  • Platinum
  • Gold
  • Ruthenium
  • Rhodium
  • Palladium
  • Cadmium
  • Silver

Rhodium, the most expensive of the group costs about \$90.00 / gram. Most of the rest cost about \$15.00 / gram. Gold and Platinum cost about \$35 & \$50 / gram respectively.

Other Stuff
You could also hypothesis that buckyballs and/or nanotubes are found in the craters of carbonaceous impacts (I don't know this is true but it'd be fun if they did).

I've got a complete table for Terrestrial concentrations compared to the concentrations found elsewhere (moon, asteroids, meteors, Universe, etc.).

Viable space colonies will require access to volatiles (gases, ices, etc.) of many different compounds for their own self-sufficiency - water (for oxygen, rocket fuel, & water) and ammonia (using its nitrogen for crops) especially.

Other Considerations
It is unlikely in near-term space colonization scenarios that any of these raw materials will be price competitive with those produced on Earth for use in the Earthly market.

However, they will be highly price competitive or even greatly lower in price for utilization in/on other space colonies, even those in low Earth orbit. So any sort of growing space infrastructure will require plenty of materials from mining sources.

It is possible / plausible that some off-Earth manufacturing processes could produce items unique to those environments and highly valuable on Earth from the materials extracted from various sources. For example, it is possible to produce "perfect" ball bearings in zero G environments. We could propose that processes to produce long-strand nanotubes (useful for making super strong cables like those necessary for a space elevator) can only be made in space or on other bodies (like Mars).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that many Earthly minerals are formed/concentrated by hydrothermal processes. Since this depends on having liquid water and active magmatic processes, any of these found on Mars would likely be relics from much earlier ages. See e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ore_genesis $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 2 '15 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim2B, thanks for you advice. Definitely will use some of these REE. Of course,like in every game, more precious minerals will always be deep in the planet crust. You also gave me idea for setting, why not have mining base in a crater? This could explain why I will generate so much cheaper metals in shallow soil. $\endgroup$ – not7CD Apr 2 '15 at 19:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And asteroids/meteors tend to have higher concentrations of the Platinum Group Elements (Iridium, Osmium, Platinum, Gold, Ruthenium, Rhodium, Palladium, Cadmium, and Silver). You could also hypothesis that buckyballs and/or nanotubes are found in the craters of carbonaceous impacts (I don't know this is true but it'd be fun if they did). $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Apr 2 '15 at 20:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @not7CD how about Valles Marineris? On Earth, the Grand Canyon offers a cross-section of rock going back billions of years. On Mars, the similar situation might provide a ready-made "shaft" to whatever depth is desired, and you then mine horizontally from the face. It's so huge that it may cross a rich deposit somewhere. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 4 '15 at 8:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just another note: Noctis Labyrinthus would be a killer setting. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 4 '15 at 11:20

On Mars, water will be valuable. Permafrost and large deposits would be a mining resource.

The lack of tectonics and any recient volcanism means you won't find a motherload of concentrated metal like in California or Alaska. If bacteria have some role, then doubly so,

If you want gold and platnum, you're in the wrong place.

Perhaps the same issues that prevent heavy metal deposits might allow for other elements that are sequestered (and not near the surface) here. Imagine stuff that gets refined out of crustal rock on Earth, or weathered out by rain, etc.

But, what if the same stuff is just as easily available on the moon?

  • $\begingroup$ delta V for the Moon and Mars are similar. The main reason to not go to Mars is the travel time. The main reason to not go to the Moon is we don't know if there are any volatiles for us there (and if there are, how much). $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Apr 3 '15 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ Lunar Prospector mission confirmed lots of water on the moon, in polar craters. On or just below the surface; no heavy mining needed. IAC, that's a point to the OP: what is there that we want and can't get easier elsewhere? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 4 '15 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ I would quibble that it provided strong evidence to support the presence of water but that it wasn't confirmed. But I intended my comment as more of the general case over the surface rather than the special case which might be found at Lunar and Mercurian poles. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Apr 4 '15 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz, What about long term missions? We can pretend that all Earth resources are exhausted. So Mars for it's better-than-moon gravity and "atmosphere" is better for long term mining operations. Back to the geology. If concentrated metals aren't in shallow rock, aren't hey deeper? We can hypothesize that after planet formation, nothing special happened. Heavy metals are, where they are. No recent volcanism, as you said, but where are these precious metals if not near core? Luckily we have 10-50 km of crust until we reach mantle. $\endgroup$ – not7CD Apr 6 '15 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, I agree about the PGE. In general, Mars won't have much that are easily accessible. You'll find exceptions where there are metallic meteorites. You can also find veins where there is volcanism (e.g. Tarsis Uplift region). $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Apr 7 '15 at 1:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.