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Gold is a chemical element with symbol Au (from Latin: aurum) and atomic number 79. In its purest form, it is a bright, slightly reddish yellow, dense, soft, malleable and ductile metal. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements, and is solid under standard conditions. The metal therefore occurs often in free elemental (native) form, as nuggets or grains, in rocks, in veins and in alluvial deposits. It occurs in a solid solution series with the native element silver (as electrum) and also naturally alloyed with copper and palladium. Less commonly, it occurs in minerals as gold compounds, often with tellurium (gold tellurides).
Gold’s atomic number of 79 makes it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally in the universe. It is thought to have been produced in supernova nucleosynthesis from the collision of two neutron stars and to have been present in the dust from which the Solar System formed. Because the Earth was molten when it was just formed, almost all of the gold present in the early Earth probably sank into the planetary core. Therefore, most of the gold that is present today in the Earth’s crust and mantle is thought to have been delivered to Earth later, by asteroid impacts during the late heavy bombardment, about 4 billion years ago.
Gold resists attacks by individual acids, but it can be dissolved by aqua regia (“royal water” [nitro-hydrochloric acid], so named because it dissolves “the king of metals”). The acid mixture causes the formation of a soluble gold tetrachloride anion. Gold metal also dissolves in alkaline solutions of cyanide, which are used in mining and electroplating. It dissolves in mercury, forming amalgam alloys; it is insoluble in nitric acid, which dissolves silver and base metals, a property that has long been used to confirm the presence of gold in items, giving rise to the term acid test.
This metal has been a valuable and highly sought-after precious metal for coinage, jewelry, and other arts since long before the beginning of recorded history. In the past, a gold standard was often implemented as amonetary policy within and between nations, but gold coins ceased to be minted as a circulating currency in the 1930s, and the world gold standard (see article for details) was finally abandoned for a fiat currencysystem after 1976. The historical value of gold was rooted in its medium rarity, easy handling and minting, easy smelting, non-corrodability, distinct color, and non-reactivity to other elements.
A total of 183,600 tonnes of gold have been mined in human history, as of 2014. This is equivalent to 9513 m3 of gold. The world consumption of new gold produced is about 50% in jewelry, 40% in investments, and 10% in industry.
Gold’s high malleability, ductility, resistance to corrosion and most other chemical reactions, and conductivity of electricity have led to its continued use in corrosion resistant electrical connectors in all types of computerized devices (its chief industrial use). Gold is also used in infrared shielding, colored-glass production, and gold leafing. Certain gold salts are still used as anti-inflammatories in medicine.
Gold is the most malleable of all metals; a single gram can be beaten into a sheet of 1 square meter, or an ounce into 300 square feet. Gold leaf can be beaten thin enough to become transparent. The transmitted light appears greenish blue, because gold strongly reflects yellow and red. Such semi-transparent sheets also strongly reflect infrared light, making them useful as infrared (radiant heat) shields in visors of heat-resistant suits, and in sun-visors for spacesuits. Gold is a good conductor of heat and electricity and reflects infrared radiation strongly.
In addition, gold is very dense: a cubic meter has a mass of 19,300 kg. By comparison, the density of lead is 11,340 kg/m3, and that of the densest element, osmium, is 22,588 ± 15 kg/m3.
Many holders of gold store it in form of bullion coins or bars as a hedge against inflation or other economic disruptions. However, economist Martin Feldstein does not believe gold serves as a hedge against inflation or currency depreciation.
The ISO 4217 currency code of gold is XAU.
Modern bullion coins for investment or collector purposes do not require good mechanical wear properties; they are typically fine gold at 24k, although the American Gold Eagle and the British gold sovereigncontinue to be minted in 22k (0.92) metal in historical tradition, and the South African Krugerrand, first released in 1967, is also 22k (0.92). The special issue Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coin contains the highest purity gold of any bullion coin, at 99.999% or 0.99999, while the popular issue Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coin has a purity of 99.99%.
Several other 99.99% pure gold coins are available. In 2006, the United States Mint began producing the American Buffalo gold bullion coin with a purity of 99.99%. The Australian Gold Kangaroos were first coined in 1986 as the Australian Gold Nugget but changed the reverse design in 1989. Other modern coins include the Austrian Vienna Philharmonic bullion coin and the Chinese Gold Panda.