There are few things in the solar system as unique as the asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Since Giuseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres, the first and largest asteroid, we’ve had a fascination with discovering what was out there. And when we finally started a process of not only mapping, but mining the riches we found, a veritable gold rush began. We really had no clue how many were there, but they number in the millions, with nearly 2 million of them larger than 1 kilometer in diameter. No two are exactly alike in form or composition and every corporation with a ship and a crew to spare were eager to stake their claims.

Ultimately, over the course of nearly two centuries, the Dominion believes that they have mapped them all, which is a daunting and ever-changing business. The belt does a fine job of acting like a fishing net, trapping flotsam and jetsam from from elsewhere in the universe as it travels its galactic path through our solar system. And each time a traveler hits a rock, it causes a cascade of momentum and force, like ripples on a pond. Each time that happens, the map changes and there’s a rush to see what may have arrived to stir the pot.

Inside the Asteroid belt seen against the sun in deep space

Though the larger asteroids have yielded impressive quantities of everything from ice to palladium, platinum, tungsten, and any other elements you can think of, it’s often the smaller remnants of these party crashers into our solar system that have provided the most surprising results. Mining operations pay handsome dividends across the board, but it’s the oddities among the normal suspects that create the biggest stir.

Among the treasures lost in those floating stones, crews have found technologies from crashed ships and probes as well as biological residue from beings not from our universe. And sometimes we find things that shouldn’t be alive, but somehow manage to achieve that feat. Panicked distress calls bring out the Space Marines, but also attract pirates and other opportunists in the dark. Though some discoveries have been shared with the larger scientific community, there are rumors of corporations profiting more than a few times from being first on the scene and flashing credits to those who found such riches.

Eventually we’ll plumb all of the depths of the asteroid belt, but for most of the next century the mining companies will remain in business. They’ve already spread out to many of the lifeless rocks among Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings. And everybody is always watching for the next splash in the pond.

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