Tag Archives: mineral


The mild-mannered gypsum is not only a pretty sulfate to look at, but is harvested for numerous functions. The crystals are tabular, and often twinned. It can also form massive, granular, and fibrous habits. Radiating forms are called “daisy gypsum,”, and rose-shaped forms “desert rose.” Gypsum tends to be fairly drab with color, varying from near colorless, white, and gray, to a more green, yellow, or reddish hue. Its name comes from the Greek word “gypsos,”, meaning chalk or plaster.

It is mined for use as a fertilizer, plaster, chalk, and sheetrock / gypsum board. The granular form called alabaster is used in carving and sculpture. “Plaster of Paris” is dehydrated gypsum – by adding water back into the powder, the mixture creates an exothermic reaction (gives off heat), and “sets” into a hardened form. This is useful for making casts of objects. The fibrous crystal form is called “satin spar” and “senelite.”

gypsum 3

Selenite – fibrous form

gypsum 4

Alabaster – granular gypsum

gypsum 2

Desert Rose – rosette gypsum

Gypsum has a white streak, but ranges from transparent to opaque. It is a very common mineral found in many locations. It can be deposited from lakes and seawater, hot springs, and other evaporative environments.

**Becky Trivia** Two fossil sites across North Dakota, on opposite ends of the state, hold gypsum. To the east, the Pembina Gorge locality once held a vast inland sea. Gypsum is so plentiful there it is the main mineral replacing the mosasaur and fish fossils, giving them a very soft, fragile form. Just off site, people can wander and pick up satin spar spears ranging from clear to black. To the west, the Whiskey Creek locality was once a swampy environment similar to the everglades. Sheets of gypsum can be found in and around those crocodile fossils as well.

The chemical formula is CaSO4·2H2O, and a hardness of 2 on the Mohs scale.


Pellant, Chris. Rocks and Minerals. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1992. Print. Pg. 110.






Fibrous malachite

Malachite is an intense green colored, copper carbonate mineral. Instead of being a solid color, it is often banded in shades of green. While it can form tabular and twinned crystals, it is more often seen as botryoidal masses, or stalactitic, with a fibrous banded structure or crusts. Malachite can commonly be found with azurite. It has a hardness of 3.5-4 – soft enough to carve readily, yet still taking a polish. The stone is used for decoration, ornamentation, and jewelry. It can also be crushed and made into a green pigment. It was originally worn to ward off evil spirits.

Malachite comes from many locations, including Russia, Africa, Australia,


Malachite with azurite

Brazil, and Arizona. It was named after the Greek word “mallows”, alluding to its leafy green color. It has also been called Atlas ore and Green Copper.

The chemical formula is: Cu2CO3(OH)2




Pellant, Chris. Rocks and Minerals. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1992. Print. Pg. 105.

Busbey, Arthur Bresnahan. Rocks & Fossils. Alexandria, VA: Time Life, 1996. Print. Pg. 174


fulguriteNot truly a mineral or a fossil, fulgurite is sometimes referred to as petrified lightning. The word comes from Latin (fulgur = lightning), and is amorphous “lechatelierite” silica glass. When lightning or electricity strikes a conductive surface, the temperature can skyrocket to at least 2,950F and melt surrounding silica or quartz leaving behind a glass tube. Lechatelierite can also be formed when a meteor impacts the ground, or during volcanic explosions.

They vary in shape, size, and color, and can be very fragile. Larger pieces have been recorded between 13-30 feet in length. Their shape mimics the path the electrical charge took.



Septarian nodule (concretion)

External, weathered surface of a septarian nodule.

External, weathered surface of a septarian nodule.

A “concretion” refers to a type of mineral deposit, where layers of precipitated minerals are attracted to a starting nucleus (such as shell or bone) – much like how a pearl forms. Generally this occurs in water-rich environment, where there are minimal restrictions or obstructions to the concretion growth, resulting in a round shape. Numerous concretions may start growing near each other, then merge to form larger masses.

These particular concretions contain angular cracks and cavities. The word “septarian” comes from the Latin word septum, meaning a wall or partition, referring to the cracks riddling through these concretions. It is believed the cracks are formed from shrinkage of material – where the outside deposited material is denser or hard, while the innermost material is softer, which shrinks and cracks over time. These cracks are then filled with precipitate minerals such as calcite or siderite.

Internal polished surface of septarian nodule, showing calcite and iron-rich deposits.

Internal polished surface of septarian nodule, showing calcite and iron-rich deposits.

Septarian nodules are common in the northeastern part of North Dakota, near the Pembina Gorge. As they weather out of the ground, the softer, original concretionary material erodes faster than the cracks, giving the nodule a turtle-shell like appearance. These are often mistaken for fossils.



Buchanan, Rex C., Tolsted, Laura L., and Swineford, Ada, 1986, Kansas Rocks and Minerals: Kansas Geological Survey, Educational Series 2, 60 p.


quartz 1Quartz is a very common mineral, with numerous shapes and colors. For as long as people have enjoyed shiny things, quartz has been used in jewelry and carvings. Different types of quartz include: chalcedony (white, lightly colored), agate (multi-colored, banded), onyx (agate with straight, consistent bands), jasper (red-brown), aventurine (chalcedony with shimmering inclusions), tiger’s eye (gold to red-brown), amethyst (purple), citrine (yellow to orange), prasiolite (light green), rose (pink), smoky (brown to gray), carnelian (red-orange), and others. The biggest difference in forms is whether the mineral is macrocrystalline (showing individual crystals), or microcrystalline (tiny crystals, visible under magnification). Transparent varieties showing good crystal forms such as amethyst or citrine would be macrocrystalline.

Quartz can be found as a component of many other rocks and minerals – granites, sandstone, and schist, for example. Crystals are generally six-sided, but commonly twin. It is a 7 on the Mohs scale, with a white streak. The chemical formula for quartz is SiO2 . As the second most common mineral found on earth (the most common being feldspar), quartz can be found world-wide.

It is piezoelectric – meaning it generates an electrical charge if put under stress. It is used as an oscillator in radios, watches, gauges, etc. Quartz sand is used to make glass, as well as a sandblasting abrasive.





galena2Galena, a lead sulfide, is not only a source of lead, but of silver as well. Metal extraction is simplified by its low melting point. It is dark grey-silver in color, with an octahedral crystal structure. The metal surface can tarnish when exposed to air, darkening the color. It was named in 77AD by Pliny the Elder, from Greek “galene”, literally meaning lead ore.

Deposits can be found in England, Bulgaria, Australia, the USA, and many North African countries, among others. It is the State Mineral of Missouri and Wisconsin.

This mineral is used, and has been used, for a variety of applications. From kohl in ancient Egypt, lead shot, green glazes for pottery, and crystal radio sets. It has a variety of common names, such as “blue lead ore”, and “potter’s ore”.galena1

The chemical formula for Galena is PbS, and it has a hardness of 2.5-3 on the Mohs scale. Being mainly lead, it feels very heavy when held. Its specific gravity is 7.4-7.6, whereas pure lead is 11.3. Pyrite, an iron sulfide, has a specific gravity of 4.9-5.2.




Palache, Charles, Harry Berman & Clifford Frondel (1944), The System of Mineralogy of James Dwight Dana and Edward Salisbury Dana Yale University 1837-1892, Volume I: Elements, Sulfides, Sulfosalts, Oxides. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York. 7th edition, revised and enlarged, 834pp.: 200-204.


amazonite 2Amazonite, also called amazonstone, is a type of microcline feldspar which is translucent to opaque blue-green in color. It was named in 1847 by Johann Friedrich August Breithaupt. Even though the name implies a locality close to the Amazon, no deposits have yet been found nearby. Instead, it has been found in Ontario, Quebec, Italy, Russia, and Colorado. The color comes from traces of lead, not copper.

If used as a gemstone, it is generally cut into a cabochon due to its fragile nature. It has a hardness of 6-6.5 on the Mohs scale. The chemical formula for Amazonite is KAlSi3O8.amazonite 1





rhodochrosite 1Rhodochrosite is a translucent to transparent, ranging in colors from white, to pink, to red. It is a manganese carbonate, found in hydrothermal veins alongside copper, silver, and lead, and can be used as a manganese ore. When exposed to air, rhodochrosite tends to form a dark rind as it oxidizes. It is generally a massive, nodular, or botryoidal rhodochrosite 2form, however the rare transparent rhombohedral crystals can also be found. It has a hardness of 3.5-4 on the Mohs scale, has a white streak, and is soluble in warm hydrochloric acid. Due to its soft nature, and beautiful commonly banded colors, this mineral is often used as a carving medium, but rarely faceted. rhodochrosite 3Its chemical composition is MnCO3. Its name comes from Greek, literally meaning rose-colored.

Pellant, Chris. Rocks And Minerals. New York, Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 2000. Pg 100.

Busbey III, Arthur B.  Rocks & Fossils.  Time Life Books, 1997.  Pg 170.


fluorite purple

Purple fluorite octahedron

Group: Halide. Chemical formula is CaF2.

fluorite green

Green fluorite cubes

Fluorite is a translucent mineral that covers a rainbow of colors, yet has a clear streak. The crystal structure is cubic to octahedral, often with twinning. Like chalcopyrite, fluorite is found in hydrothermic veins, and hot springs, often alongside sulfides. It is fluorescent under ultraviolet light.

fluorite fluorescense

Fluorescent fluorite

The mineral has been used as lenses in telescopes and microscopes, a flux for smelting, and even as a source of fluoride for hydrofluoric acid. It was named in 1797 by Carlo Antonio Geleani Napione, from Latin – “fluor” meaning stream, or to flow – for its use as a flux. Fluorspar is also a common name. Fluorite is also used in carving and jewelry, however with a hardness of 4 on the Mohs scale, heavy wear is not recommended.

Pellant, Chris. Rocks And Minerals. New York, Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 2000. Pg 74.




chalcopyrite 1

Chalcopyrite crystal form

Chalcopyrite is a brassy-colored, copper iron sulfide. It was named by Johann Friedrich Henckel in 1725, from the Greek “chalkos” meaning copper, and “pyrites” meaning to strike fire. It has a green-black streak, yet tarnishes in a variety of iridescent purple, blue, and red. It sometimes goes by the term “peacock rock”. It is often mistaken for pyrite, but is a softer 3.5-4 on the Mohs scale. It is brittle, and can shatter if struck. It has poor cleavage, and fractures unevenly. It can be found in tetragonal crystal form, massive, and even botryoidal.

Chalcopyrite botryoidal

Botryoidal form

This mineral has been mined as a copper ore for thousands of years. Copper mixed with zinc creates brass, but mixed with tin creates bronze – a metal used in tools for ages. It is very common in sulfide veins, high-temperature hydrothermal veins, igneous dikes, and more. When oxidized, or weathered, chalcopyrite may form malachite, azurite, cuprite, and other minerals.

chalcopyrite peacock

“Peacock rock”

Group:  Sulfide.  The chemical formula is CuFeS2.

Klein, Cornelis and Cornelius S. Hurlbut, Jr., Manual of Mineralogy, Wiley, 20th ed., 1985, pp. 277 – 278