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We're first introduced to latinum by the Ferengi in DS9.

Latinum is now considered the go-to currency in the Star Trek universe because it's so rare and can't be replicated. Gold (Au) and diamonds (a gem made of carbon atoms linked together in a lattice structure) on the other hand can be dug up by scratching around in the dirt on earth and other planets and can also apparently be replicated.

Beyond their intrinsic 'beauty', both gold and diamonds have industrial uses including refraction of light and conduction of electricity. This begs the question, where does latinum actually come from and what is it? Is it a naturally occurring element with only a certain number of locations where it occurs? Does it have any other value beyond it's rarity and inability to be replicated?

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    “This begs the question” — only in your sloppy modern vernacular! – Paul D. Waite Dec 5 '19 at 9:27
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    Also wouldn't it be cool if Vernacular was the star system with the Federation's main latinum mining facility. – Paul D. Waite Dec 5 '19 at 9:28
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    The Star Trek universe posits a large number of materials based on elements we can only presume to exist beyond the end of the known periodic table, most probably in the Island of Stability. Names for such elements on screen are often based on existing element names (dicobalt, tritanium, duranium, trilithium, etc). It's reasonable to think that latinum, also, is another such superheavy element. – J... Dec 5 '19 at 14:19
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    @PaulD.Waite - you are confusing the phrase "beg the question" with similarly named logical fallacy. They are not the same thing. – Davor Dec 5 '19 at 15:32
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    @Davor: did they emerge separately then? Or was the former born from people misunderstanding the latter? – Paul D. Waite Dec 5 '19 at 16:57
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It's mined and refined on-site on various moons and planets, then sent to Ferenginar (or wherever) to be minted into currency

Huge robot-driven bulldozers shoveled the gravel onto a conveyor belt, which carried it into an immense box that radiated heat in waves--probably a smelting furnace, Ttan thought. She'd never seen one quite like this before, but she knew the general principle. Inside, the gravel was reduced to its composite minerals, then put back together into ingots of pure latinurn or rhodinium or carbonire or whatever else it had been programmed for. She couldn't see where the ingots came out of this one, though.

"As you may have already guessed," Gul Mavek said, "Davonia is a working moon. We have found traces of latinum on this level. I want you to find the main deposit for us." Moon? Ttan wondered. Where in the Great Plan had they brought her?

DS9: Devil in the Sky

Apparently there are deposits on Ferenginar itself.

GOUGE-MINING MAGNATE ESCAPES DEATH
WIFE CHARGED IN MURDER ATTEMPT

In the early morning hours, latinum mining king Squeeb, son of Been, was hauled from the flaming wreckage of his skimmer by two members of his private medical staff.Though suffering from various injuries, Squeeb is expected to make a full recovery.

Star Trek: Legends of the Ferengi

Raw latinum metal is apparently solid, not liquid. It needs to be smelted and processed to remove the impurities and turn it into its pure liquid form.

Peeking around the side of the vat, Jake looked to where his friend pointed. A gigantic gray box stood in the middle of the cargo bay. A worker using an antigrav lift stood beside it, cranking the box’s top back to reveal a load of raw, unprocessed latinum.

DS9: Highest Score

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    Just one disagreement with this otherwise excellent (as always) answer - your last quotation only states that Squeeb was on Ferenginar not that he did any mining there so it doesn't even imply the presence of natural Latinum on the planet. I work in the City of London where a large number of mining companies are based and many metals magnates (pun intended) live, work and travel but we don't do much mining in the square mile! – MD-Tech Dec 5 '19 at 13:27
  • @MD-Tech - there are later mentions of large amounts of latinum on Ferenginar. I think it's reasonable to assume he made his money at home. Either way it's mined by the Ferengi – Valorum Dec 5 '19 at 15:16
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    They can't make ingots of pure latinum; Who Mourns for Morn? makes it very clear that latinum is a liquid. And that enough latinum to make an "ingot" would represent a huge fortune; a hundred bars' worth looks like it would fit into a shot glass. It's the silver liquid here. – Ross Thompson Dec 5 '19 at 21:01
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    @RossThompson - In its processed form, sure. But who knows what it looks like in its raw form? – Valorum Dec 5 '19 at 21:38
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    @RossThompson - Maybe it's solid below room temperature – Valorum Dec 5 '19 at 21:59
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Actually, the Memory Alpha entry (already suggested in the comments) does say what it is, although only at a very superficial level:

Latinum was a rare silver-colored liquid metal

AFAIK, neither its exact nature (and why it cannot be replicated) nor its sources are mentioned in the canon works (this seems to be the consensus of a relevant Reddit thread, too), and arguably this is the reason why such info is not included in Memory Alpha.

Regarding its sources, some info comes from licensed but non-canon works, summarized in the relevant Memory Beta entry:

Latinum was found naturally in the form of crystals which can be mined. Such crystals typically formed near pockets of nickel, iron, pergium, or cobalt. (DS9 novel: Devil in the Sky)

A Federation survey of the Davon system sometime before 2348 found traces of latinum on the moon Davonia. In 2355, the planets and moons of the Maxia Zeta star system were discovered to be richly endowed with many minerals and materials, including latinum. And in 2370 a group of Horta discovered deposits of latinum on Baraddo, Bajor's outermost moon. (DS9 novel: Devil in the Sky; TNG - The Lost Era novel: The Buried Age)

A large amount of latinum supposedly exists underground on Ferenginar.(DS9 reference: Legends of the Ferengi)

There is also a mention in the Apocrypha appendix of the Memory Alpha entry:

Star Trek: Armada II depicts the natural form of latinum occurring in sparse nebulae in a form that can be harvested.

In short, however mundane this may sound, it would seem to come from mining.

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    “What is it?” “... ... It is silver.” – Paul D. Waite Dec 5 '19 at 9:29
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    @CristobolPolychronopolis it's what finally did in fluorscent lights, when an RoHS fluorescent tube cost 12,000 units... – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '19 at 17:48
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    It might be worth referencing that latinum is seen on-screen in the DS9 episode Who Mourns for Morn? (S06E12) - and is a silver-coloured liquid at approximately room temperature – Chronocidal Dec 5 '19 at 21:56
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    This doesn't explain what Latinum is, in a deeper sense. So what if it's a sliver-colored liquid metal? What about it makes it so valuable and used as the commodity mediating exchanges? – einpoklum Dec 5 '19 at 22:47
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    @einpoklum-reinstateMonica: Presumably the inability to replicate it. Until 200 years ago, gold had no real intrinsic value (it's a pretty metal, but lots of metals are pretty), but we used it as a basis for value because it was an intrinsically highly limited resource, that didn't spoil, and was easily subdividable. When replicators can make gold, it's useless as a value store, so you need to come up with some other medium for trade when two civilizations don't accept each other's fiat currencies. – ShadowRanger Dec 6 '19 at 2:17

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