In the search for signs of extraterrestrial life, many of the resources used by scientists tend to center around resources so scarce that only millions of years would be required to run through them. Rare Earths are the most complicated piece of the puzzle, and NASA — in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey — has been studying these rare minerals for years. Just how rare is rare earth? Less than 1 percent of the planet is made up of these minerals, and only 0.5 percent of Earth’s surface is devoted to rare earth mining.
Within that tiny percentage of the Earth’s surface, researchers have been able to find rare earths in abundance, and the researchers have identified two particularly rare materials, fluorine silicate and samarium. Both of these element groups are also known as magnetite, which gives these metals their distinctive forms. The scientists’ next step will be to prove that fluorine silicate is naturally occurring on Earth.
The rare earth minerals — rare itself, because they are so rare and they are so, so close to one another — together are known as the rare earth tetrahedrite. Each element has a different chemical structure that is then used to create various products.