clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Learn No Man's Sky's secret visual language to find resources and stop wasting time

How to eliminate a shipload of frustration

Whether space pirates blew up your ship, you want to get rich on the Galactic Trade market, or a black hole broke your warp drive again, planetary pit stops are a necessity in No Man's Sky. They're also time-consuming and frustrating when you're looking for one particular element. (We're looking at you, Iridium.)

We spent dozens of hours planet hopping in No Man's Sky, shooting some serious side eye at the seeming randomness, convinced that there must be a better way to find elements.

Turns out, there is: No Man's Sky has a secret visual language. Learn it, and the miasma of locating resources will smell a lot less like a flatulent Gek.

Whether you're scouring a garbage planet for Iridium arches or crossing a tundra on the hunt for Chrysonite crystals, we'll teach you how to speak in No Man's Sky native tongue. Learn the language and follow the rules below, and you'll save countless hours of confusion and frustration on planets throughout the universe.

Would you like to know more?

No Man's Sky is a largely solitary experience, but you don't have to travel the universe alone.

This is just one small section of Polygon's No Man's Sky guide. Be sure to check out the rest, where you can learn all about your ship, your Multi-Tool and Companion Units and even get answers to some of the biggest questions about No Man's Sky. We also have a guide to No Man's Sky's resources that'll teach you the difference between Oxides and Silicates as we explain No Man's Sky's elements.

And if you're just looking for a quick reference guide to locations, like where you can save and trade — we've got you covered — too.

Things to know and do before you begin

Before you set out on your journey to strip-mine the entire galaxy, you should know a few things about galactic rules, quitting and upgrading.

The four most important things to know about planets

In No Man's Sky, planets are the best places to gather resources. But how do you know what resources a planet contains — and what resources it doesn't? It's actually pretty simple. You just have to know what to look for.

If you know four things about a planet, you can make surprisingly accurate predictions about the elements you're likely to find — and, just as importantly, what you won't find, no matter how hard you look.

What are those four things? Good question!

  • The planet's weather
  • What element lies inside green crystals
  • What element lies inside shiny boulders
  • What element lies inside other big stone structures

Those seemingly disparate pieces of information are, in fact, related, and function within a predictable set of rules. Take a couple of minutes to gather that knowledge when you arrive on a new planet, and No Man's Sky will seem a lot less random and mysterious.

If it's not working, leave

Given No Man's Sky's procedurally generated and random nature, there will invariably be exceptions to the general rules we outline here. But exceptions don't render the rules useless. If something's not working out, there's a very simple solution: Leave, and try again somewhere else.

For example, based on our testing, there is a clear correlation between shiny boulders (like the one pictured above) and Chrysonite crystals (also pictured above, not even a little bit coincidentally). On a cold planet, find a metal-like boulder, and you're very likely — but not absolutely assured — to find Chrysonite crystals in the surrounding area.

That's the correlation between the important things we mentioned above. The planet is cold, and there's a shiny boulder, and wouldn't you know it, there's some Chrysonite right next door.

We've tested this dozens of times in different games, on different planets, in different galaxies, and the correlation is … mostly … rock-solid. (Sorry not sorry.) However, some small amount of the time, we just didn't find Chrysonite.

If you find yourself in that situation, hop into your starship, fly until you find another golden boulder and try again. Remember: You're on a planet the size of a planet. There's plenty more geography to explore, and there's no reason to stay where you are for more than a minute or two if you can't find what you're looking for.

Upgrade your Scanner to make finding elements easier

When you're on foot, your Scanner is an indispensable tool for finding elements. Press a button, and moments later, your screen fills up with icons showing the locations of nearby elements.

Your basic scanner is fine, but if you have the Companion Unit blueprints for Scanner upgrades, build them. With Scanner upgrades, finding elements is immeasurably easier. It's the difference between seeing what's in your immediate vicinity and seeing everything in what seems like a mile in every direction.

Make the most of your companion units

Upgrading your Scanner will make your life easier and your hunt for elements faster. There's more to upgrading than reading blueprints, though. To get the most out of your Companion Units, be sure to place your upgrades next to each other, a process that we explain in No Man's Sky item placement guide.

Putting it all together

At this point, you know what to look for, you know when to cut your losses and you know that you should upgrade your Scanner. Now it's time to find elements. In the next sections, we'll teach you how to find elements by teaching you how to think about elements.

The five resource classes

Whether you shot a rock or punched a flower to get them, No Man's Sky's resources fall into five classes — Isotope, Neutral, Oxide, Precious and Silicate — each of which has its own associated icons.

Learning element classes and their general applications is immensely helpful and not particularly difficult. Just associate red Isotope resources with fuel, and you won't have to stop and think about what you need every time your weapon runs out of juice or your Launch Thrusters run dry. Just think red, use your Scanner and head toward the red icons on your map.

No Man's Sky sure likes to fill up your screen with icons, and that can get a bit overwhelming. That's why we created the table below, which you can use as a quick reference guide to help you find what you're looking for.

  • Class
  • Elements
  • HUD
  • Scanner
  • Exotic
  • Calium, Murrine, Omegon, Radnox
  • Isotope
  • Carbon, Plutonium, Thamium9
  • Neutral
  • Aluminum, Copper, Emeril, Gold, Iridium, Nickel
  • Oxide
  • Iron, Titanium, Zinc
  • Silicate
  • Chrysonite, Heridium, Platinum

Essential elements are (almost) everywhere

The first rule of No Man's Sky is: Every planet in the universe has a predictable set of elements.

At the very least, each planet will have all of the elements that you need to get back to space. No Man's Sky won't leave you stranded. Your planet might not have the resources to build every Companion Unit you want, but you'll be able to get the parts together to do basic repairs on any ship you find — or at least refuel your Launch Thrusters.

This is important because many planets won't have the element you're looking for. Rather than continuing your journey around whatever rock you're on, you should leave and look elsewhere. Essential elements allow you to refuel, repair and leave unhelpful planets in your rearview mirror.

The most predictable and easily identifiable elements fall into two broad categories.

Rocks, trees and crystals

On just about every planet, you'll find Iron, Carbon, Plutonium and Heridium.

  • Carbon and Plutonium are red Isotope elements that you use to refill things like your health, your weapon charges and your Starship's Launch Truster. Use these to stay alive, shoot things and blast off.
  • Heridium is a blue Silicate element "used in the creation of components vital to space exploration," according to its in-game description. In short, if you want to create Antimatter for Warp Cells or construct and upgrade shields and weapons on your Starship, you'll need Heridium.

No Man's Sky may be procedurally generated, but similar-looking things are everywhere. If you're looking for these elements, browse the gallery above to see the different forms they take. Your results may vary, but only slightly.


Unless you arrive on a notably desolate space rock devoid of flora, you're likely to find the flowers that give you Platinum, Thamium9 and Zinc.

  • Platinum is a blue Silicate element that hides in blue flowers. Whether they upgrade your jetpack, grenade launcher or shields, the blueprints you find everywhere in No Man's Sky are hungry for Platinum.
  • Thamium9 is a red Isotope element that, on planets, hides in red flowers with three stalks. As with Platinum, some blueprints want Thamium9, especially if they're upgrades to your Starship. Mostly, though, you'll use Thamium9 to refuel your Starship's Pulse Engine, which lets you travel quickly in solar systems. Frankly, scouring planets for Thamium9 isn't worth your time. If you need some, hop into your ship, blast into space and shoot small asteroids, which you'll find everywhere.
  • Zinc is a yellow Oxide element that lives inside of yellow flowers. You're most likely to use it as fuel to recharge your Exosuit and Starship's shields, but plenty of blueprints call for a dash of Zinc, too.

No matter the element, flowers look basically the same on every planet. Browse the gallery above to see the different forms these elements take.

Neutral elements

Essential elements are everywhere, but Neutral elements give No Man's Sky's planets variation. You'll need to find them over and over again, and they don't appear as icons on your Scanner. At best, if you're close enough, they'll show up with a transparent outline of cubes like in the image above.

If you're just running around and guessing about where they might be, the game becomes a slog. Good news: You don't have to guess.

Learn the shapes and colors to look for, and the mystery of how to find, say, Heridium, evaporates. As long as you know to look for monoliths like the one above, all you have you to is hop into your ship and fly around until you see one. And if you don't see one, we'll teach you why you should try another planet.

The two broad types of Neutral resource deposits

Visually speaking, there are two broad types of Neutral resource deposits. For the purposes of this guide, we're going to call them metal-like and Heridium-like, based on their appearance.

Metal-like deposits

Metal-like neutral elements are always either Emeril, Gold or Aluminum. These are shiny and tend to be globular, boulder-like resource deposits.

  • Aluminum is a Neutral resource that lives in boulders and green crystals. You'll use Aluminum use to craft upgrades for your Exosuit and Starship. Blueprints are hungry for Aluminum. Just about nothing else is.
  • Gold is a Neutral resource that lives in boulders and green crystals. Just like Aluminum, it's used to craft upgrades for your Exosuit and Starship.
  • Emeril is a Neutral resource that, on planets, lives in boulders and green crystals. In the early game, you can make good money harvesting and selling Emeril. Later on, you can use Emeril to build upgrades from blueprints or create new elements with recipes, which are effectively blueprints for crafting special resources.

Heridium-like deposits

From a distance, the Heridium-like neutral elements — Nickel, Copper and Iridium — look like, well, Heridium, sometimes in shape and always in that they include a bit of shiny, colored reflectivity. (To be clear, Heridium deposits look like monoliths made of stone, with subtle blue streaks throughout.)

Depending on the element, these resource deposits tend to have similar shapes:

  • Nickel deposits look like Heridium's telltale monolithic stone blocks, but with rounded corners.
  • Copper deposits tend to be floating, egg-shaped blobs.
  • Iridium deposits are red-colored rock arches.

Why shapes are so important

Why does all of this stuff about shapes matter? Because planets will include only one element in each form.

If you find a shiny boulder that holds Gold, you're not going to find a shiny boulder of Nickel on the other side of the mountain or planet. If you find an Emeril boulder, you're not going to find Gold in another similar boulder. You're only going to find Emeril.

To be clear, this exclusionary principle applies to specific shapes. There's still a chance that you can find the resource you're looking for on your current planet, hiding in green crystal formations.

Green crystals

Beneath the surface of every planet — and sometimes on the surface — there are networks of caves and tunnels filled with red Plutonium crystals. Interspersed with these are also green crystals with Neutral resources of either Aluminum, Emeril or Gold.

Again, like the rock-like formations that we discussed in the previous sections, every planet's green crystals will contain only one element. If you find Aluminum along the equator, you'll find Aluminum at the north pole.

Green crystals are weird

Green crystals are one of the most confusing visual indicators in No Man's Sky because they're special (or weird, depending on your mood).

Contrast them with their cousins, the ubiquitous Plutonium crystals. On every planet and moon in the galaxy, Plutonium crystals — and only Plutonium crystals — are red. Shoot a red crystal on at the edge of a galaxy on Tfksdkfasdfa Dddekooppp or hundreds of thousands of light years away on Lerempasfffaaa Pllljjjooooo THX1138, and you'll always get Plutonium.

But green crystals mean different things on different planets. Shoot one on Fldkafsd Kkosodafksd III, and you get Emeril. Shoot one on Nhjjjjas Okdaslassssssszzzzzpppppppppp, and you get Gold.

There is one commonality, though: Either way, you're getting a Neutral element.

Also, just like Heridium-like elements, there's only one type per planet. Whether it's the fourth or the 400th green crystal you shoot on Olasldlasldfasdf Zsasdasffff Prime, every green crystal on Olasldlasldfasdf Zsasdasffff Prime will give you the same element, whether that's Aluminum, Emeril or Gold.

How to find green crystals

When you first land on a planet, ping your Scanner and look for a cluster of red lightning bolt icons mixed with gray treasure chest (or lunchbox) icons.

Context is particularly important here. No Man's Sky uses the same gray icon to denote loot crates and green crystals. That's why you should look for gray icons alongside red Isotope icons. Like in the image above, gray treasure chest icons nestled among red lightning bolt icons are the telltale sign of green crystals.

When you've found a green crystal, shoot it, and you'll know what every green crystal on the planet contains.

The element you find in the green crystals is not related to the element you find in the metal-like deposits. Usually — but not always — they're different. But if there are Gold deposits above ground, you can (and frustratingly often will) also find Gold in the green crystals. This doesn't happen every time, but you can't assume they'll be different.

Blue and yellow crystals

There are two other kinds of crystals you might find on a planet: blue Chrysonite and yellow Titanium. These don't exist on every planet, but there are some general rules you can use to make your search more efficient.

Chrysonite crystals

Blue Chrysonite crystals tend to live on cold planets. Here's an easy way to remember that: Blue equals cold. If there's no snow or the occasional freezing rainstorm wherever you are, you're probably not going to find Chrysonite crystals.

Chrysonite, a Silicate resource, is a great example of an element we ignored for hours until we needed it for a Companion Unit and then couldn't find it.

Use your Scanner to find Chrysonite crystal formations. Chrysonite shows up with a blue flask icon, just like Plutonium flowers. As we mentioned above, if you're on the hunt for Chrysonite, you'll find it next to a metal-like element deposit — a big, shiny boulder. Ping your Scanner around one of these, and you're likely to see those telltale blue Silicate icons in your immediate vicinity.

Titanium crystals

Finding yellow Titanium crystals is a lot rarer but also less exciting than finding Chrysonite, because you can harvest Titanium pretty quickly when you kill No Man's Sky's ever-present Sentinels. No matter where you find it, the Oxide element is useful for recharging your shields and crafting blueprints for high-level upgrades.

Use your Scanner to find Titanium, an efficient fuel for your Hazard Protection Companion Units and repairing your shields. It will appear on your HUD with Oxide's yellow brick icon.

Titanium crystals seem to show up more often on hot or dry planets. Planetary dryness is tough to get a feel for when you're just walking around, so watch the planet's weather information when you first land. Look for words like "arid," "dusty" or "baked."

If you ignored this information when it popped up (like we always do), you can find it in your Discoveries menu (press Options on the PlayStation 4). Hover over the name of the planet you're currently on — it's the highlighted one — and you'll find information about weather, Sentinels, flora and fauna, just like in the image above.

Exotic elements and Trade Commodities

Exotic elements like Calium, Radnox, Murrine and Omegon tend to show up on Extreme planets — made so either by the environment or Sentinel activity.

You can find Trade Commodities like Gravitino Balls, Vortex Cubes and Albumen Pearls on these planets, too. Use your Scanner to find these items, which appear with a green exclamation point icon.

These exotic elements (and the occasional Trade Commodity) are crafting requirements for the higher-level Companion Units for your Exosuit, Multi-Tool and Starship.

Sentinels get really angry when you pick up Trade Commodities like Gravitino Balls, so you can farm them for a healthy profit so long as you don't mind shooting the occasional Big Dog-looking Sentinel.

Putting it all together

Checking just a couple things can help you determine if a planet is worth the investment of your time, and it's easy to do if you know what to look for. Often, you don't even have to land to figure out what's on a planet.

If you're feeling comfortable in your cockpit and you don't want to go for a walk, fly at low altitude and focus on identifying the element deposits other than Heridium. (Heridium is almost everywhere, so that doesn't help with the process of elimination.)

Finding the metal-like elements is easy: Just look for shiny deposits. For the Heridium-like elements, you have to watch a little closer. Watch for the rounded edges of Nickel, the floating orbs of Copper or the distinctive arches of Iridium. Finding these two elements is often enough information to decide if you should even land.

Remember: The first time you land on a planet, you'll receive information about its environment. (And if you miss it, you can find it in the Discoveries menu.) Between knowing this and looking around, you'll be able to make educated guesses about a number of important things. For example, looking at the image above, you should be able to tell whether there are Chrysonite crystals (cold planets) or Titanium crystals (dry planets) around.

Wherever you land, you can usually find a cave or tunnel nearby that will let you check on the green crystal Neutral element without much trouble, too.

If you take these few steps, you can save yourself a lot of miles of walking and a shipload of frustration by judging a planet quickly.