Many of us learn an affinity for gold early in our lives. A teacher affixing a glittering gold star to a worksheet will brighten any student's day. And most of us only love it more as we grow older. Whether your knowledge of gold is superficial or not, there are plenty of interesting things to learn about it.

1. The luster in our phones

Most people will recognize glass as the one of the most valuable components in a smartphone. The elation of winning a game from a recently downloaded app will quickly fade if a crack is spotted on the phone's display. Open the phone up, however, and you'll find that there's gold helping to keep those apps running. Due to its high resistance to corrosion and its ability to conduct electricity, gold is a valuable component in most smartphones. The amount, though, is not enough to trade your phone in when gold prices shoot higher -- there's about one ounce of gold per 1,000 smartphones.

Wearing glasses, a surprised boy works on a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Gold is out of this world

Miners don't look up when they seek gold-digging opportunities; however, that may change. It may seem like science fiction, but gold resources have been identified on asteroids close to Earth. For example, NASA plans to launch a mission to 16 Psyche in 2022. Located between Mars and Jupiter, 16 Psyche is a metal asteroid that scientists believe is composed of gold as well as iron and nickel.

3. Plenty of yellow stuff in the Bluegrass State

Kentucky may be best known for its bourbon and horse racing, but the state's connection to gold is considerable. While many people are aware that Fort Knox is where the United States stores its gold reserves, they probably don't know the size of the gold pile. Currently Fort Knox houses about 147.3 million ounces of gold; however, the highest historic holding was 649.6 million ounces, according to the U.S. Mint.

But Fort Knox isn't the only place where the U.S. is storing bullion. Denver and West Point hold 43.9 million ounces and 54.1 million ounces, respectively.

4. Our appetite for gold may have begun in Bulgaria

The love affair between humanity and gold goes back a long, long way. In fact, archeologists estimate that the oldest human-made gold artifacts date back to about 6,500 years ago and are the work of the Chalcolithic civilization. Located in modern-day Bulgaria, these people were Europe's oldest civilization.

Archaeologists posit that of all the pieces found in the area, the Varna Gold Treasure represents the oldest human-made gold artifacts. A product of the Chalcolitic civilization, the Varna Gold Treasure is comprised of various pieces including pendants and beads.

5. Testing, one, two, gold?!

As the world continues to battle the spread of COVID-19, medical professionals and politicians are increasingly emphasizing the importance of testing. Believe it or not, the rapid testing kits being used to assess to detect antibodies rely on the use of colloidal gold. In fact, the World Gold Council states that "gold nanoparticles are at the heart of the hundreds of millions of Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) that are used globally every year."

But that's not the only use of the yellow stuff in the field of medicine. Scientists are investigating the potential for gold nanoparticles to be used in cancer treatments.

6. To infinity and beyond

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were initially tasked to explore Jupiter and Saturn, but more than 40 years later, the two spacecraft are still in operation -- beyond the solar system! In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to leave our solar system; Voyager 2 followed suit and crossed the threshold in 2018.

The cover of the golden record with various illustrations.

The cover of the golden record on Voyager 1 and 2. Image source: NASA.

And on each of the spacecraft are two gold records to provide extraterrestrials with a comprehensive view of life on our planet. In addition to 115 images electronically placed on the records, there are recordings of spoken languages, music, and sounds of Earth.

7. Where it all begins

We have a good sense of the different uses for gold, but what exactly is its origin story? According to Newmont Corporation, the largest publicly traded gold-mining company by market cap, digging the yellow stuff out of the ground is no simple feat. The company estimates that only about one in 3,000 discoveries of gold leads to the development of a mine; moreover, Newmont contends that of all global gold deposits, only about 10% contain enough to mine. 

Last lustrous words on the metal

Our relationship to gold clearly transcends jewelry. In addition to being a critical component in our smartphones, the yellow stuff plays an invaluable role in medicine. It's no surprise that investors often invest in gold as a way to diversify their portfolios -- especially in times of significant market volatility.

However, it's important to recognize that over the long term, the price of gold has failed to outperform the S&P 500. Since 1980, for example, the S&P 500 has soared 2,660% while the yellow stuff has increased 208%.

Instead of buying bullion, therefore, investors would be better-served to consider individual gold-affiliated companies such as royalty and streaming companies Royal Gold and Franco-Nevada Corporation. Providing up-front capital to mining companies, Royal Gold and Franco-Nevada help miners finance the development of their projects in exchange for the right to purchase the mined mineral at a preset price or a percentage of the asset's mineral production.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.