Our planet is endowed with extravagantly rich mineral ore deposits. How did we get them and why is it significant? It turns out that the source of these deposits is not indigenous; rather, large asteroid/comet strikes over the past 2 billion years produced Earth’s richest metal ore deposits.

For example, an asteroid or comet 10–15 kilometers in diameter struck 1.849 billion years ago just north of what is now Lake Huron in Canada to form the Sudbury Basin.1 The impactor itself was rich in nickel, cobalt, and platinum group metals. However, it struck with such force that nickel- and copper-rich magma from Earth’s mantle filled the crater. This 150–260 kilometer-diameter crater ranked as the world’s leading source of nickel until the 1970s. For many decades, it accounted for 95 percent of the world’s nickel market.2 It still accounts for a third. At least as far back as 10,000 years ago, the Plano culture people mined copper to manufacture tools, weapons, and jewelry.3 This early use of metallurgy was a significant factor in the launch of human civilization. Also, due to the high mineral content of its soil, the Sudbury Basin is the best agricultural land in northern Ontario.

Earth’s crust does not contain any naturally occurring highly siderophile (iron-loving) elements (gold, platinum, iridium, osmium, rhenium, palladium, rhodium, and ruthenium) and very little of the moderately siderophilic elements (cobalt, nickel, silver, and tungsten). They exist in great abundance, however, in the planet core and lower mantle. It takes asteroids or comets larger in diameter than 10 kilometers striking Earth at high velocity to bring lower mantle material to the surface. Such asteroid and comet impacts were much more frequent previous to 3 billion years ago. Hence, it is no surprise that the only pristine continental crust dating older than 2.5 billion years—the Kaapvaal Craton in South Africa and the Pilbara Craton in Western Australia—are richly endowed with highly siderophile and moderately siderophile elements.

The Kaapvaal Craton is the site of the Vredefort Crater, the world’s largest remaining impact crater. Geologists calculate that the Vredefort Crater was more than 300 kilometers across when it was formed 2.023 billion years ago.4 Without the Vredefort impactor, either the gold and platinum group deposits beneath the Kaapvaal Craton’s surface never would have been discovered or the deposits would have eroded away.

The Vredefort Crater overlaps the Witswatersrand Basin, site of the largest gold and platinum group deposits on Earth. Even after the extraction of over 47,000 tons of gold, the Witswatersrand Basin still contains about half as much gold as the rest of Earth’s surface combined.5

An asteroid 5–8 kilometers in diameter created the 100-kilometer diameter Popigai Crater in northern Siberia. The asteroid struck with such force that it instantaneously transformed graphite in the ground into an abundance of diamonds. These diamonds range in size from 0.5–10.0 millimeters and the Popigai Crater region ranks as the world’s largest known diamond deposit.

In a review of mineral deposits in impact structures, a team of four geologists demonstrated that virtually every impact crater larger than 2 kilometers in diameter has produced economically valuable mineral deposits.These mineral deposits include hydrocarbon fuel deposits as well.

As I explained in previous articles and my book, Improbable Planet,7 the asteroid and comet belts in the solar system are unlike those in other planetary systems. About 80 percent of known exoplanetary systems are devoid of asteroid and comet belts. The other 20 percent possess asteroid and comet belts populated by hundreds to thousands of times more comets and asteroids than is the case for the solar system.

The asteroid and comet belts in the solar system, plus the mass and orbital distance of the Moon, are such that Earth receives enough major impact events, especially early in its history before the appearance of animals, to salt the crust with rich mineral ores. These ores played crucial roles in the early launch of metallurgy and the eventual development of global, high-technology civilization. On the other hand, Earth, especially during the human era, received a sufficiently low number of major impact events to pose no risk to a high human population and global civilization.

blog__inline--out-of-this-world-richesImage: The Big Nickel Outside the Sudbury Nickel Mine
Credit: Motorbicycle, Creative Commons Attribution

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

  1. Donald W. Davis, “Sub-Million-Year Age Resolution of Precambrian Igneous Events by Thermal Extraction-Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometer Pb Dating of Zircon: Application to Crystallization of the Sudbury Impact Melt Sheet,” Geology 36, no. 5 (May 2008): 383–86, doi:10.1130/G234502A.1; Joseph A. Petrus, Doreen E. Ames, and Balz S. Kamber, “On the Track of the Elusive Sudbury Impact: Geochemical Evidence for a Chrondrite or Comet Bolide,” Terra Nova 27, no. 1 (February 2015): 9–20, doi:10.1111/ter.12125.
  2. Tom Jewiss, “The Mining History of the Sudbury Area,” originally published in Rocks and Minerals in Canada (Spring 1983), University of Waterloo, Earth Science Museum, accessed August 16, 2020, https://uwaterloo.ca/earth-sciences-museum/resources/mining-canada/mining-history-sudbury-area.
  3. Jewiss, “Mining History.”
  4. Jason Kirk et al., “The Origin of Gold in South Africa,” American Scientist 91, no. 6 (January 1, 2003): 534–41, doi:10.1511/2003.38.907.
  5. Kirk et al., “Gold in South Africa.”
  6. Wolf Uwe Reimold et al., “Economic Mineral Deposits in Impact Structures: A Review,” in Impact Tectonics, ed. Christian Koeberl and Hebert Henkel (Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer, January 2005): 479–552, doi:10.1007/3-540-27548-7_20.
  7. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 44–48, 57–60, 63–76, https://shop.reasons.org/product/283/improbable-planet; Hugh Ross, “How the Flora Family of Asteroids Shaped the History of Life,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), May 1, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/05/02/how-the-flora-family-of-asteroids-shaped-the-history-of-life; Hugh Ross, “Grand Tack Model Reveals More Solar System Designs,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), May 22, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/05/22/grand-tack-model-reveals-more-solar-system-designs; Hugh Ross, “Is the Solar System Too Fine-Tuned for Modern Science?,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), January 7, 2016, https://reasons.org/explore/publications/tnrtb/read/tnrtb/2016/01/07/is-the-solar-system-too-fine-tuned-for-modern-science.


About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.

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