There are a lot of rare things in the world, and it’s more than likely you will never come across one of those things. We could ask how many times you’ve asked to borrow some money from your mother and she said, “Yeah, take my purse and go crazy.” And she meant it! How many of you have been caught up in a rain shower but down came hundreds or thousands of frogs, or perhaps spiders? It’s happened.
Who’s seen an albino alligator, or maybe a pygmy three-toed sloth just hanging around? Do you think you’ll ever find a Red Beryl, one of rarest gemstones in the world? It’s not likely, but it’s even more unlikely you’ll ever come across what we’ll talk about today, in this episode of the Infographics Show, What are the Rarest Substances in Nature?
So, we’ll come right out with it and tell you that the rarest substance on this planet is something called “Astatine.” This is a radioactive chemical element found in the Earth’s crust. That makes it a little bit hard to find, of course. It’s known as a decay product, which in laymen’s terms means it’s the result of transformations in radioactive decay. Its name comes from the Greek word, “astatos”, which means unstable. It’s so unstable that as soon as you saw it, it would not be there anymore.
It belongs on the Periodic Table with a group called Halogens, which also includes fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine. As for just how rare it is, while sources differ, most say that at any one time, there is less than 25 grams of it in the Earth’s crust.
Scientists have never just pulled a piece of this stuff out of the crust. Its physical appearance is an extrapolation derived from what it’s made out of. We are told it should have the appearance of a hard, black, shiny metal.
Ok, so how did we ever guess this stuff exists? Well, in 1869, when Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev laid out the Periodic Table, there was a missing piece under iodine, and it was assumed that a fifth halogen should be there. This position was what was called element No. 85, and Mendeleev called the missing element “eka-iodine”.
What followed in the ensuing decades were a series of failures to find this element. Then in 1931, an American physicist thought he had cracked it and called it “alabamine”. Then a few years later, in 1934, H. G. MacPherson from the University of California said he had disproved those claims, and yet again in 1937, a guy working in what’s now known as Bangladesh said he could prove that element 85 was in fact something he called “Dakin.”
Another paper came out in 1936, written by Horia Hulubei and Yvette Cauchois, two researchers working at the Sorbonne in Paris. It was in 1940 that we first artificially produced some of the stuff. That was at the University of California when researchers Dale Coson, Kenneth Ross Mackenzie, and Emilio Segrè, bombarded the isotope bismuth-209 with alpha particles inside a particle accelerator.
Voila, they got their substance, and as it was so unstable, they gave it that Greek name. Nowadays scientists are researching how effective this element could be for treating people with cancer, but that research is ongoing. In 2015, some French researchers released a paper that indeed said that this ultra-rare substance worked in treating some cancers. We can produce it artificially, but we can’t seem to find how much that costs.
Talking about costs, let’s have a look at some of the rarest substances that do have a price tag.
The winner is something called Antimatter. As the name suggests, this stuff is the opposite of matter. Hmm, what’s that? Well, inside an atom you have protons, neutrons, and electrons.
Antimatter is a kind of reverse matter, consisting of “antiparticles”, where protons don’t have a positive electrical charge but a negative one, and these are called Antiprotons. Electrons which generally have a negative charge have a positive charge, called positrons. In simple terms, everything is reversed. And apparently these antimatter particles have been made at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
What on Earth is this stuff? Well, we are told when the Big Bang happened, and the universe was created, there was about an equal amount of matter and antimatter, but fortunately for us, matter got on top and that’s why anything exists. Alright, so how much does it cost: NASA tells us $62.5 trillion per gram. Why is it important? We are told that when we produce antimatter and then it interacts with normal matter, it produces unbelievable amounts of energy. That energy could be used for sending spaceships into the unknown, or something like that.
Science has cooked up other strange substances that are extremely costly, such as the spherical cage of carbon known as Buckminsterfullerene. Apparently that costs about $150 million per gram. That said, we looked online and one website had an almost pure version of this stuff for just a few thousand dollars per kilo. Then there is the man-made radioactive element called Californium, which goes for around $27 million per gram. But what’s the rarest stuff anyone could find, if they just got very lucky walking in the wilderness?
Well, diamonds seem to be everyone’s best friend in this department. People find them all the time, so you might guess they are certainly not the rarest gem stones in the world. Still, they are worth a ton of money if you find the right kind. It was reported in 2017 that a minister in Sierra Leone found a huge diamond worth as much as $70 million. He didn’t need any fancy equipment, either.
From the reports though, it’s sounds as though the government is going to give him a small reward and claim most of the cash for itself. Then there was the 14-year old kid who found a much smaller diamond in Arkansas state park in 2017. While his find might not even get him one million dollars, it’s not bad for something he just saw floating in a stream of water. Diamonds by the way get you about $50,000 per gram, but that depends on overall size and quality.
You’ll only get $20,000 per gram for the gem stone Taaffeite, even though it’s much rarer than diamond. So is the gem we mentioned in the introduction, Red Beryl. This goes for about $9,000 a gram even though it’s unbelievably hard to find. It’s only been discovered in the U.S. states of Utah and New Mexico. Then you’ve got to go all the way to Myanmar to find another very rare rock, Painite, which goes for about $8,500 a gram.
The incandescent gem called Alexandrite is said to go for as much as $70,000 a carat. A carat equals 200mg, so that’s $350,000 a gram. The bigger the gem, the higher the cost per carat, so we think that amount given by one gem website was considering one huge stone. We are told the normal cost for this gem is $12,000 per carat. The darker moodier-looking gem of Musgravite will get you around $6,000 a carat, which is about $30,000 a gram.
Other very rare gems that cost a fortune are Grandidierite ($20,000 per carat) and Serendibite ($18,000 per carat). The winner for the most prized gem is the Red Diamond, which we are told can be 100s of thousands of dollars per carat or even as much as one million. The largest ever found was 5.11 carats and that was picked up from a river in Brazil by a farmer. It’s thought to be worth about $20 million.
We should point out again that these prices can change according to many reasons relating to size and quality. We hope you get lucky one day and find a rare gem.
So, what’s the rarest, most valuable thing you’ve ever found? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called the deadliest substance in the world. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time!