How is Gold Formed?

May 22, 2022
Written by Peter Anderson

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Summary

 Gold is one of, if not the most coveted metal in the world. 

It has been desired for its beauty, scarcity, and resistance to tarnish since ancient times.

Did you know that gold originates from deep within Earth's core? 

Gold is formed when elements are subjected to extreme heat and pressure. 

The process of how gold is made happens over millions of years!

It is a metal that has been prized for thousands of years. 

Gold is used in the making of jewelry, coins, value storage, healthcare equipment, and decorations. If you're wondering how gold forms, read on to find out.

How is Gold Formed?

  • Gold's formation begins in the fiery bowels of Earth, where exploding stars (also known as supernovas) produce new elements. These elements are incorporated into asteroids and comets that bombard Earth. As the planet's crust shifts over millions of years, these elements are drawn into Earth's core.
  • The high temperatures and enormous pressure within the core cause a process called "irradiation." This irradiation not only creates new elements but transforms them as well. It is in this way that precious metals like gold are born.
  • Gold is found chiefly with other elements, such as silver and copper. However, if you find an area on Earth where pure gold has been discovered, there will likely be a lot more of it! These desirable areas are called "lodes" or "veins" and can be found in rocks. Unfortunately, because gold is so rare, there aren't too many lodes available to mine.
  • Gold's rarity causes it to have a high value. Its value is so high that people use other metals as fakes for jewelry! For example, "gold filled" gold jewelry is real gold mixed with another metal, like copper. The filling is usually marked on the item to distinguish it from the real thing. 
  • Although not as valuable as pure gold, "gold plated" items are real gold mixed with zinc. Gold-plated items are much more common because they require far less gold to make. A thin layer of gold is bonded to another metal, usually copper or steel- this process is a great way gold contributes to new job opportunities.

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How Natural Gold Formations Occur

Naturally-occurring gold is formed in Earth's crust-how is gold made by natural process-all elements that form on Earth, together with other elements found on Earth.

The true origin of gold is unknown.

Some believe it was created in the center of a star, and others think it came from space dust that formed into meteorites after crashing into Earth.

Regardless, we know for certain that gold is found all over the world and has been mined for thousands of years.

Gold is such a coveted material because it's beautiful to look at and is very rare on Earth; there are only about 170,000 tons left in existence!

Where Does Gold Occur?

Gold's history starts with it in nature as a chemical element.

The element name is "Au" and the atomic number for gold is 79.

Although gold is found throughout the world, most of Earth's gold (about 80%) comes from South Africa, and another large deposit has been identified.


Gold ore

Gold is often found together with other rocks and minerals in what is called ore deposits. 

Gold ore is rocks and minerals that contain gold in concentrations that make it possible to mine economically.

There are areas where more than one billion ounces (one tonne = one thousand million grams) of gold have been found.

There are numerous smaller deposits, including several in Australia, that are likely to be very rich.

Gold occurs naturally on Earth as the free metal, usually alloyed with silver and copper, in rocks, veins, and alluvial deposits called placer deposits.

Rocks can be crushed or melted to retrieve the gold and then refined into 99.9% or better purity.


Gold has been known of since ancient times.

It is found in nature as the free metal, alloyed with copper and silver, and in minerals such as tellurides (calaverite, krennerite, petzite, and sylvanite are examples).

Gold is relatively rare: its abundance is in the Earth's crust.


How does gold form?

Disseminated all over the globe, it occurs as nuggets or grains in rocks but also mixed into other minerals that include sulfides such as pyrite (iron sulfide, FeS2), arsenides such as millerite (nickel arsenic, NiAs), and sulfarsenides.


Several metallogenic mechanisms may deposit gold. It is often associated with volcanic activity and veins, fault zones and calderas, intrusive rocks, and the associated hydrothermal veins.

It is often found in association with silver, copper, antimony, arsenic, tin, lead, and zinc.


Gold generally occurs as native gold (the free metal), usually alloyed with silver and copper, but can also occur in minerals such as tellurides (of which calaverite, krennerite, petzite, and sylvanite are examples), or various other sulfides (in which case it is mainly alloyed with).


Synthesizing gold

Synthesizing gold (the element) is much more difficult than synthesizing the other noble metals. Gold has only been produced in microgram quantities starting in 1960 by reducing gold (III) fluoride with calcium metal at 750 °C in a high vacuum. 

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