Is there an approximation on when scientists first found out about certain elements on asteroids?

What about gold in particular?


The first asteroid (Ceres) was discovered on 1801. Initial studies on asteroids were primarily on positional parameters and nature of orbit. The first ever attempt on predicting the composition of asteroids was done by Watson et.al. on 1941 but due to limited technology and knowledge, the findings were found to be inconclusive. In the 1950s, with the development of instrumental telemetry, effort were given in studying asteroid curves, rotational periods, body shapes and pole orientation. Then in 1970, the first ever true study on asteroid composition was made whose findings were made official. McCord et.al. studied asteroid 4 Vesta which proved that its composition were similar to Nuevo Laredo basaltic achondrite. More studies were done on the spectral of minerals (Burns et.al. on 1970 and Adams et.al. 1974-75). Subsequently, the first study on meteorites were done by Salisbury et.al. on 1975 and Gaffey et.al. on 1976. An asteroid taxonomy were also made by Tholen(1984) and Tholen-Barucci(1989).

In the late 1970s, two scientists named Jonathan Gredie and Edward Tedesco proposed that there is a relationship between asteroid composition and distance from sun. This proposal were further supported though observations and models made by another astronomer John Lewis. He confirmed that asteroid composition changes as a function of temperature and hence distance from sun. Therefore, all asteroids do not have same composition.

In 2005, 25143 Itokawa became the first asteroid from which samples were captured and brought to Earth for analysis. The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa touched down twice on the asteroid and collected a small amount of dust despite the failure of the mechanism designed for the purpose. It delivered the sample to Earth on 13 June 2010. It was was discovered Sept. 26, 1998 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro, New Mexico.


  1. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/asteroids-comets-and-meteors/asteroids/25143-itokawa/in-depth/
  2. Physical Studies of Minor Planets by Tom Gehrels, 1971
  3. Asteroids III by William Frederick Bottke, University of Arizona Press, 2002
  4. Encyclopedia of the Solar System by Lucy-Ann McFadden, Torrence Johnson and Paul Weissman, Elsevier, 2006
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer post, but I'm not sure what the answer actually is yet. If you narrowed this down to a specific answer to the OP's question as asked, what would the date be? Would you call the proposed identification of minerals via spectroscopy identification of specific elements? Were the proposed identifications pretty reliable or just speculative fitting to a nearly featureless reflectivity spectrum? Did the material recovered by Hayabusa show any specific elements that weren't already clear from the spectroscopic mineral fits? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Oct 14 '20 at 0:28

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