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So what is a mineral? What are the characteristics of all minerals?
1. A mineral occurs naturally.
2. A mineral is solid.
3. A mineral has a definite chemical composition.
4. A minerals atoms are arranged in an orderly pattern.
5. A mineral is inorganic (was never alive)
Of the almost 4000 known minerals, only about 30 are common. The most common are quartz,feldspar,mica, and calcite.
These minerals make up most of the rocks found in the Earths crust.
In fact, over 60% of the Earths crust is made up of the family of minerals known as feldspar!
To be able to identify these and other minerals, we need to look at the properties used to separate and distinguish these minerals.
Remember!: Rarely is a mineral identified by a single property. These properties need to be considered together to correctly identify a mineral.
Color is the most easily observed mineral property and the least useful!
Some exceptions to the color rule would be cinnabar, which is always red, and malachite, which is green.
Many minerals have a similar color.
Many minerals can turn colors due to impurities, or they can change colors in various circumstances.
For example, pure quartz is colorless or white, impurities can make the mineral rose, purple or pink!
Discuss the following! How many of the characteristics of minerals can you name? Why isnt color a very good property to identify most minerals?
Luster refers to the way a mineral shines in reflected light. Notice the difference between these two minerals?
The mineral on the left has a metallic luster, the one on the right, a nonmetallic luster.
There are several terms used to describe nonmetallic luster. Examples could be vitreous, like the quartz on the left, or pearly, like the gypsum on the right.
Other terms that might be used include greasy, dull, and earthy. Can you tell which of these has an earthy luster and which has a vitreous luster? Earthy Vitreous
Streak of a mineral is the color of its powder when rubbed on an unglazed white tile.
The streak is often not the same color as the mineral. A minerals color may vary, but the streak rarely will!
The cleavage of a mineral is its tendency to split easily or to separate along flat surfaces. Cleavage can even be observed on tiny mineral grains making it a very useful property!
Mica is probably the best example as it splits into thin sheets. It is said to have one perfect cleavage.
Feldspar splits readily in two directions, always at or near right angles.
Calcite and galena cleave in three directions. They are said to have three good cleavages.
Not all minerals show cleavage. Those that dont break along cleavage surfaces are said to have fracture.
Discuss the following! There are four common minerals, how many can you name? Of the four common minerals, which one makes up over 60% of the Earths crust?
The hardness of a mineral is its resistance to being scratched. Diamond is the hardest of all minerals, and talc is the softest.
Friedrich Mohs devised a hardness scale. In this scale, ten wellknown minerals are given numbers from one to ten. Lets take a look at the ten minerals used and some of the simple tests.
Talc (left) is the softest and has a hardness of 1. A soft pencil lead will scratch talc. Gypsum is a bit harder and has a hardness of 2. A fingernail scratches gypsum.
Calcite (left) has a hardness of 3 and a copper penny just scratches it. Fluorite has a hardness of 4 and it can be scratched by an iron or brass nail.
Apatite (left) has a hardness of 5 and can be scratched by a steel knife blade. Feldspar has a hardness of 6 and it will scratch a window glass.
Quartz (left), with a hardness of 7, is the hardest of the common minerals. It easily scratches hard glass and steel. Topaz has a hardness of 8 and will scratch quartz.
Corundum (left) has a hardness of 9. Corundum will scratch topaz. Diamond with its hardness of 10 can easily scratch the rest of the minerals.
Discuss the following! Does this mineral show cleavage or fracture? Of the four most common minerals, which is the highest hardness?
Crystal shape can be a useful property to identify minerals if the minerals have had the time and space to form crystals. Most mineral grains that are found in rocks, lack the room to grow.
Specific gravity tells you how many times as dense as water the mineral is. Pure gold can have a specific gravity as high as 19.3!
Calcite is calcium carbonate, CaCO 3. If a drop of weak hydrochloric acid is placed on calcite, the acid bubbles as carbon dioxide is released.
Malleable Magnetic Radioactive Flourescence Taste
Minerals that can be hammered thin or shaped are said to show these properties. Can you think of a mineral that might be shaped or hammered?
Gold would be a perfect example!
Some minerals that contain Iron, are magnetic and can be picked up by a magnet.
This is the state of glowing while under a ultraviolet light. Some minerals even glow once the light is turned off!
Some minerals, such as this uraninite, are radioactive. They give off subatomic particles that will activate a Geiger counter.
Halite (rock salt) can be identified by its taste. This practice is not recommended!
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