Mapped: The Geology of the Moon in Astronomical Detail
If you were to land on the Moon, where would you go?
Today’s post is the incredible Unified Geologic Map of the Moon from the USGS, which combines information from six regional lunar maps created during the Apollo era, as well as recent spacecraft observations.
Feet on the Ground, Head in the Sky
Since the beginning of humankind, the Moon has captured our collective imagination. It is one of the few celestial bodies visible to the naked eye from Earth. Over time different cultures wrapped the Moon in their own myths. To the Egyptians it was the god Thoth, to the Greeks, the goddess Artemis, and to the Hindus, Chandra.
Thoth was portrayed as a wise counselor who solved disputes and invented writing and the 365-day calendar. A headdress with a lunar disk sitting atop a crescent moon denoted Thoth as the arbiter of times and seasons.
Artemis was the twin sister of the sun god Apollo, and in Greek mythology she presided over childbirth, fertility, and the hunt. Just like her brother that illuminated the day, she was referred to as the torch bringer during the dark of night.
Chandra means the “Moon” in Sanskrit, Hindi, and other Indian languages. According to one Hindu legend, Ganesha—an elephant-headed deity—was returning home on a full moon night after a feast. On the journey, a snake crossed his pathway, frightening his horse. An overstuffed Ganesha fell to the ground on his stomach, vomiting out his dinner. On observing this, Chandra laughed, causing Ganesha to lose his temper. He broke off one of his tusks and hurled it toward the Moon, cursing him so that he would never be whole again. This legend describes the Moon’s waxing and waning including the big crater on the Moon, visible from Earth.
Such lunar myths have waned as technology has evolved, removing the mystery of the Moon but also opening up scientific debate.
Celestial Evolution: Two Theories
The pot marks on the Moon can be easily seen from the Earth’s surface with the naked eye, and it has led to numerous theories as to the history of the Moon. Recent scientific study brings forward two primary ideas.
One opinion of those who have studied the Moon is that it was once a liquid mass, and that its craters represent widespread and prolonged volcanic activity, when the gases and lava of the heated interior exploded to the surface.
However, there is another explanation for these lunar craters. According to G. K. Gilbert, of the USGS, the Moon was formed by the joining of a ring of meteorites which once encircled the Earth, and after the formation of the lunar sphere, the impact of meteors produced “craters” instead of arising from volcanic activity.
Either way, mapping the current contours of the lunar landscape will guide future human missions to the Moon by revealing regions that may be rich in useful resources or areas that need more detailed mapping to land a spacecraft safely .
Lay of the Land: Reading the Contours of the Moon
This map is a 1:5,000,000-scale geologic map built from six separate digital maps. The goal was to create a resource for science research and analysis to support future geologic mapping efforts.
Mapping purposes divide the Moon into the near side and far side. The far side of the Moon is the side that always faces away from the Earth, while the near side faces towards the Earth.
The most visible topographic feature is the giant far side South Pole-Aitken basin, which possesses the lowest elevations of the Moon. The highest elevations are found just to the northeast of this basin. Other large impact basins, such as the Maria Imbrium, Serenitatis, Crisium, Smythii, and Orientale, also have low elevations and elevated rims.
The colors on the map help to define regional features while also highlighting consistent patterns across the lunar surface. Each one of these regions hosts the potential for resources.
Only further study will resolve the evolution of the Moon, but it is clear that there are resources earthlings can exploit. Hydrogen, oxygen, silicon, iron, magnesium, calcium, aluminum, manganese, and titanium are some of the metals and minerals on the Moon.
Interestingly, oxygen is the most abundant element on the Moon. It’s a primary component found in rocks, and this oxygen can be converted to a breathable gas with current technology. A more practical question would be how to best power this process.
Lunar soil is the easiest to mine, it can provide protection from radiation and meteoroids as material for construction. Ice can provide water for radiation shielding, life support, oxygen, and rocket propellant feed stock. Compounds from permanently shadowed craters could provide methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
This is just the beginning—as more missions are sent to the Moon, there is more to discover.
Space Faring Humans
NASA plans to land astronauts—one female, one male—to the Moon by 2024 as part of the Artemis 3 mission, and after that, about once each year. It’s the beginning of an unfulfilled promise to make humans a space-faring civilization.
The Moon is just the beginning…the skills learned to map Near-Earth Objects will be the foundation for further exploration and discovery of the universe.
The Largest Copper Mines in the World by Capacity
Where are the world’s largest copper mines, and just how large are they? Here are the 20 largest copper mines by capacity.
The Largest Copper Mines in the World
Copper is one of the most-used metals in the world, for good reason.
Global copper production has expanded with populations and economies, especially in China, which consumed 54% of the world’s refined copper in 2020. Copper’s demand comes from various industries, ranging from construction to renewable energy.
But before copper reaches its array of end-uses, miners have to extract and refine from deposits within the ground. So where are the world’s largest copper mines, and just how large are they?
Types of Copper Deposits
The location of mines ultimately depends on the occurrence and discovery of copper deposits. There are two main types of copper deposits:
- Porphyry deposits:
These are copper ore bodies formed from hydrothermal fluids from magma chambers that lie deep below the deposit.
- Sediment-hosted deposits:
These deposits are formed when copper-bearing fluids mix with permeable sedimentary and volcanic rocks.
Copper is primarily sourced from porphyry deposits, which are concentrated in the Americas. Therefore, many of the world’s largest copper mines operate in this region.
Top 20 Copper Mines by Capacity
North, South, and Central America collectively host 15 of the 20 largest copper mines. These three regions combine the capacity for nearly 36% of global copper production in 2020.
|Rank||Mine||Country||Annual Production |
|Capacity as a %
|3||Buenavista del Cobre||Mexico 🇲🇽||525,000||2.6%|
|5||Cerro Verde II||Peru 🇵🇪||500,000||2.5%|
|6*||Polar Division||Russia 🇷🇺||450,000||2.3%|
|8||Las Bambas||Peru 🇵🇪||430,000||2.2%|
|10||El Teniente||Chile 🇨🇱||399,000||2.0%|
|11*||Los Bronces||Chile 🇨🇱||370,000||1.9%|
|11*||Los Pelambres||Chile 🇨🇱||370,000||1.9%|
|15||Radomiro Tomic||Chile 🇨🇱||330,000||1.7%|
|16*||Cobre Panama||Panama 🇵🇦||300,000||1.5%|
|18||Bingham Canyon||U.S. 🇺🇸||280,000||1.4%|
*Mines with equal capacities have the same rankings. †2020
The Escondida Mine in Chile is by far the world’s largest copper mine. Its annual capacity of 1.4 million tonnes means that it can produce more copper than the second and third-largest mines combined.
Porphyry copper deposits are often characterized by lower grade ores and are mined in open pits. As a result, some of the top copper mines are also among the world’s largest open pits. The Bingham Canyon Mine (seen below) in Utah, United States, is the deepest open pit with a depth of 1.2 km. It’s also the largest man-made excavation on Earth, spanning 4 km wide.
Chuquicamata and Escondida are the second and third-deepest open pits, respectively.
Indonesia’s Grasberg Mine is another notable name on this list. It produces both gold and copper on a massive scale and has the world’s largest known reserve of gold and the second-largest reserve of copper.
Overall, the top 20 mines have the capacity to produce nearly nine million tonnes of copper annually—representing 44% of global production in 2020. However, with demand for refined copper expected to rise 31% between 2020 and 2030, these existing sources of supply might not be enough.
Falling Grades, Rising Demand: New Mines on the Block?
According to the International Energy Agency, average copper ore grades in Chile have declined by 30% in the last 15 years. Since Chile’s mines produce more than one-fourth of the world’s copper, these falling ore grades could be a cause for concern—especially with a deficit looming over the market for refined copper.
New copper mining projects are becoming more valuable and it wouldn’t be surprising to see fresh names on the list of the largest copper mines. For example, the Kamoa-Kakula Mine, which started production in May 2021, is expected to churn out 800,000 tonnes of copper annually after expansion. That would make it the second-largest copper mine by capacity.
All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization
From iron ore to gold, over 3 billion tonnes of metals were mined in 2019. Which metals did miners produce?
All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization
Metals are all around us, from our phones and cars to our homes and office buildings.
While we often overlook the presence of these raw materials, they are an essential part of the modern economy. But obtaining these materials can be a complex process that involves mining, refining, and then converting them into usable forms.
So, how much metal gets mined in a year?
Metals vs Ores
Before digging into the numbers, it’s important that we distinguish between ores and metals.
Ores are naturally occurring rocks that contain metals and metal compounds. Metals are the valuable parts of ores that can be extracted by separating and removing the waste rock. As a result, ore production is typically much higher than the actual metal content of the ore. For example, miners produced 347 million tonnes of bauxite ore in 2019, but the actual aluminum metal content extracted from that was only 62.9 million tonnes.
Here are all the metals and metal ores mined in 2019, according to the British Geological Survey:
|Metal/Ore||Quantity Mined (tonnes)||% of Total|
|Technology and Precious Metals||1,335,848||0.04%|
Miners produced roughly three billion tonnes of iron ore in 2019, representing close to 94% of all mined metals. The primary use of all this iron is to make steel. In fact, 98% of iron ore goes into steelmaking, with the rest fulfilling various other applications.
Industrial and technology metals made up the other 6% of all mined metals in 2019. How do they break down?
From construction and agriculture to manufacturing and transportation, virtually every industry harnesses the properties of metals in different ways.
Here are the industrial metals we mined in 2019.
|Metal||Quantity Mined (tonnes)||% of Total|
|Chromium Ores and Concentrates||38,600,000||19%|
|Titanium (Titanium Dioxide Content)||6,300,000||3%|
|Zirconium Minerals (Zircon)||1,337,000||1%|
Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
It’s no surprise that aluminum is the most-produced industrial metal. The lightweight metal is one of the most commonly used materials in the world, with uses ranging from making foils and beer kegs to buildings and aircraft parts.
Manganese and chromium rank second and third respectively in terms of metal mined, and are important ingredients in steelmaking. Manganese helps convert iron ore into steel, and chromium hardens and toughens steel. Furthermore, manganese is a critical ingredient of lithium-manganese-cobalt-oxide (NMC) batteries for electric vehicles.
Although copper production is around one-third that of aluminum, copper has a key role in making modern life possible. The red metal is found in virtually every wire, motor, and electrical appliance in our homes and offices. It’s also critical for various renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles.
Technology and Precious Metals
Technology is only as good as the materials that make it.
Technology metals can be classified as relatively rare metals commonly used in technology and devices. While miners produce some tech and precious metals in large quantities, others are relatively scarce.
|Metal||Quantity Mined in 2019 (tonnes)||% of Total|
|Rare Earth Elements||220,000||16%|
|Platinum Group Metals||457||0.03%|
Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
Tin was the most-mined tech metal in 2019, and according to the International Tin Association, nearly half of it went into soldering.
It’s also interesting to see the prevalence of battery and energy metals. Lithium, cobalt, vanadium, and molybdenum are all critical for various energy technologies, including lithium-ion batteries, wind farms, and energy storage technologies. Additionally, miners also extracted 220,000 tonnes of rare earth elements, of which 60% came from China.
Given their rarity, it’s not surprising that gold, silver, and platinum group metals (PGMs) were the least-mined materials in this category. Collectively, these metals represent just 2.3% of the tech and precious metals mined in 2019.
A Material World
Although humans mine and use massive quantities of metals every year, it’s important to put these figures into perspective.
According to Circle Economy, the world consumes 100.6 billion tonnes of materials annually. Of this total, 3.2 billion tonnes of metals produced in 2019 would account for just 3% of our overall material consumption. In fact, the world’s annual production of cement alone is around 4.1 billion tonnes, dwarfing total metal production.
The world’s appetite for materials is growing with its population. As resource-intensive megatrends such as urbanization and electrification pick up the pace, our material pie will only get larger.
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