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 is insoluble in nitric acid, which dissolves silver and base metals, a property that has long been used to refine gold and to confirm the presence of gold in items, giving rise to the term acid test; it dissolves in mercury, though, forming amalgam alloys, but this is not a chemical reaction.
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 a monetary policy within and between nations, but gold coins ceased to be minted as a circulating currency in the 1930s, and the world gold standard was finally abandoned for a fiat currency system after 1976. The historical value of gold was rooted in its medium rarity, easy handling and minting, easy smelting, corrosion resistance, distinct colour, 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 jewellery, 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, coloured-glass production, gold leafing, and tooth restoration. Certain gold salts are still used as anti-inflammatories in medicine.