Rocks and Minerals

Rocks and Minerals


A rock is a combination of one or more minerals. A scientist who specializes in the study of rocks is called a Petrologist.

This wonderful planet is made of many different kinds of rocks. Each rock, in turn, is made of one or more "Minerals". Most minerals are a combination of eight elements; Oxygen, Silicon, Aluminum, Iron, Calcium, Sodium, Potassium and Magnesium.

There are three basic kinds of rock on Earth. Petrologists divide all rocks into these groups based on how the rock was formed. The three kinds of rocks are:

Sedimentary Rocks: These rocks are all formed from pieces or "sediments" of other things. Sedimentary rocks are the most common kind of rock on Earth, since approximately 75% of all rocks on Earth are sedimentary. One of the main reasons why sedimentary rocks form is that all rocks are eventually exposed to two powerful forces on Earth's surface. These forces are caused by wind and water, and are called WEATHERING AND EROSION. These forces of erosion break rock on Earth's surface into pieces, or sediments. When these pieces are cemented or squeezed back together a Sedimentary rock is formed.


Igneous Rocks:These rocks are formed from molten rock called either Magma (if located underground) or Lava(if located on the surface). The word "Igneous" is a Greek word meaning "fire-formed".


Metamorphic Rocks: These rocks are all formed as a result of changes that occur in already existing rocks. The "change" is caused by the high temperatures or high pressures experienced by the rock.


The Rock Cycle


The rock cycle can be defined as the "continuous changing of rocks from one kind to another".


Once a rock is formed, it is quite often exposed to forces which will act upon the rock and change it in some way. The surface forces of "weathering and erosion" caused by wind and water, tend to break rocks over time into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces are called "sediments". These sediments may become buried and compacted by pressure, or cemented together by minerals naturally occurring in water. The resulting rock made from these sediments are called Sedimentary Rocks. A sedimentary rock may be buried even deeper in the Earth, or exposed to great heat near the surface and the minerals that make up the rock can become softer. The heat and pressure will then squeeze and deform the minerals in the rock. the minerals may be forced into new configurations. Any rock that results because of this type of change is called a Metamorphic rock. Even higher temperatures and pressures may melt the rock entirely, turning it into either lava or magma. Any rock formed from lava or magma is called an Igneous rock. At any time, rocks may be forced to the surface in response to movements in the Earth. when on the surface the rock is again potentially going to be broken into sediments by surface forces, becoming sedimentary rock once again. Also, a rock can also be forced underground by these same forces within the Earth. Once underground, the rock would be exposed to heat and pressure which could melt the rock into lava or magma forming igneous rock, or at the very least, soften it up enough to be squeezed into another metamorphic rock. The rocks of the Earth, are continually being changed in this way. This never ending cycle of changes has come to be known as the Rock Cycle.



Now we'll look at each kind of rock in a little more detail.


IGNEOUS ROCKS: Igneous rock can come in one of two varieties, or types, depending on where it was formed. Plutonic (also called Intrusive) Igneous Rocks are formed deep underground. Volcanic (also called Extrusive) Igneous Rocks are all formed on or near the Earth's surface. Believe it or not, this subtle difference totally affects the way a rock looks.

Once characteristic of Igneous rocks which may be used for identification is the fact that they all have tightly interlocking crystals. These crystals will fit together kind of like a jigsaw puzzle. The size of these crystals depends both on where the rock formed and how long it took to form. Usually, Plutonic Igneous rocks, since they form underground and are insulated by overlying layers of dirt and rock, are insulated, and therefore cool slower. Rocks which cool slower take longer to form, and that makes the crystal that are forming grow to a larger size. Large crystals in a rock make the rock have a characteristic of being "coarse grained". On the other hand, Volcanic igneous rocks form on Earth's surface, fully exposed to our atmosphere and weather. There's no insulating soil on top of these rocks, so they tend to cool off faster. Igneous rocks that cool off faster tend to form faster, and that makes the crystals in the rock smaller. An igneous rock with smaller crystals is said to be "fine grained". So, by examining the size of the crystal in an Igneous rock, you can tell whether it formed slowly or quickly, is Plutonic or Volcanic and where it formed, above ground or below ground.


Sedimentary Rocks: About 75% of all the rocks on Earth are sedimentary in origin. Mud, sand and gravel are some of the sediments that can form sedimentary rocks. Other sediments can include minerals dissolved in water, or even the remains of living things, such as seashells or plants. Many sedimentary rocks contain fossils. Fossils, as most people know, are evidence of past life that is preserved in rock. Bones, shells and impressions of plants and animals can all be formed into a fossil. There are even some rather famous fossils of footprints! Just about all the fossils that we find, are found in Sedimentary rock. Question: Why are so many fossils found in Sedimentary rock? Hint: The answer has to do with how the rock is formed

A characteristic of sedimentary rock is STRATA, which means "layers". Sedimentary rocks are typically formed in layers, since the sediments are often deposited bit by bit, layer by layer, over a long period of time.

There are two methods by which these sediments may be joined in order to form sedimentary rock. The sediments can be squeezed together by great pressure (usually underground), in a process called "compaction". The sediments can also be "glued" together by minerals found dissolved in water in a process called "cementation".

Types of Sedimentary Rocks

There are three distinct types of sedimentary rocks. These three categories reflect the three methods of sedimentary rock formation.

Fragmental or Clastic Sedimentary Rocks: This type of sedimentary rock are all made from pieces of other rocks. Petrologists classify these rocks according to the size of the particles that are used to make the sedimentary rock. Some are formed with gravel sized pieces, some are formed from grains of sand, and others are formed from tiny pieces of clay or mud.

Organic Sedimentary Rocks: Organic sedimentary rocks are formed either directly or indirectly from the remains of living things. This type of rock usually is seen in one of two varieties:

The "LIMESTONE GROUP" of organic sedimentary rocks are mostly formed from Calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Some of these rocks contain Calcium coming from living or recently living organisms, usually tiny creatures with shells living in the ocean. When the shelled creatures die, their remains sink to the bottom and are cemented or compacted together in the form of an organic sedimentary rock. There are many different examples of this type of rock, all formed from different shelled creatures in the ocean.


The "COAL GROUP" of organic sedimentary rocks are formed from the remains of plants that died millions of years ago. As plants an animals die, their remains can build up in layers. This was especially true in Earth's past where plant and animal life was abundant in swamps. As the living things died, they piled up on the bottom of the swamp. As time passed, the remains were buried by other organic things. As the bottom layers were slowly squeezed, and exposed to heat because of this squeezing they are slowly changed into coal. There are several varieties of coal, all depending on how much water has been squeezed out of the organic material, and how long it remains buried in the Earth.


Chemical Sedimentary Rocks (also called the Evaporites): This is the third and final category of sedimentary rock. It is formed when water evaporates and leaves the minerals that were dissolved in it behind. There are quite a variety of these rocks, each forming from a different type of sediment or mineral, which had been dissolved in the water.


Metamorphic Rocks: The final kind of rock on this planet is the Metamorphic rock. Remember that these are the rocks that have been changed from another kind of rock into Metamorphic rock. Recall that the high temperatures and pressures underground often accomplish this change.

Metamorphic rocks form at temperatures between 100 degrees Celsius and 800 degrees Celsius. At temperatures cooler than this, the rocks simply do not get soft enough to change into metamorphic rock. At temperatures above this level, the rocks will melt, forming magma or lava (which would cause them to be igneous rocks, right?). But, when the conditions are right, the minerals in a rock will soften and move and rearrange themselves. The resulting rock is called Metamorphic. A characteristic of some metamorphic rock is Foliation. foliation can be defined as a layering or banding of the crystals within a rock. Because of the way this rock is formed, Metamorphic rocks will often be fairly dense and heavy for their size. This is also a characteristic of Metamorphic rocks.






A mineral is a solid, inorganic, naturally occurring substance with an orderly atomic structure and a fixed chemical composition. That's what the mineralogists tells us. A mineral can also be an object of incredible beauty, as some of these photos show us. Please take advantage of the links provided in this section to view some other breathtaking samples of minerals found on this wonderful world.

Every mineral has a definite chemical makeup and a set of physical properties which can be used to identify it. different kinds and combinations of minerals make up the objects known as rocks.

In order for a substance to quality for mineral status, it must meet a set of requirements:

1. A mineral must be INORGANIC, which means that it is not formed from living things or from the remains of living things.

2. A mineral must occur NATURALLY ON EARTH, which means that it cannot be manufactured or created in a laboratory.

3. A mineral is always a SOLID. It cannot be a liquid or a gas at room temperature.

4. A mineral must have a DEFINITE CHEMICAL MAKEUP. Whatever a mineral is made of, it must always be made of the same thing for any particular mineral. It cannot be variable or change from location to location. If it does, it's not really a mineral.

5. The atoms which make up a mineral are arranged so that the mineral has AN ORDERLY INTERNAL STRUCTURE. The atoms will be in repeating patterns. This contributes to the fact that many minerals will form some pretty impressive, and pretty, crystals. This couldn't happen unless the atoms were arranged in those patterns!


On Earth, there are literally thousands of different minerals. Some of these are particularly valuable, and many fit into two categories; gems and ores.


GEMS are rare and durable minerals. They are often much sought after for use in jewelry and similar items. Gems fall into two groups: Precious and Semi-Precious.


PRECIOUS GEMS are the rarest, most durable and most valuable of the gems. Examples are the diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire. Diamonds are probably the most desired gem, and therefore, the most valuable. Diamonds are one of the hardest substances on Earth and the most brilliant gemstone. While other precious stones may actually be more rare, or expensive, as the song says only "a diamond is a girl's best friend!"

The World's 13th largest diamond.



Emeralds! (Mr. Rodrigue's birthstone)


The famous Hope Diamond.


A large Sapphire


A Star Sapphire


The quality and value of a diamond is judged using a system known as the "Four C's". The four C's stand for: cut, color, clarity and carat weight. A diamond in its natural state is just a rough crystal. You could certainly see one and not even recognize it as a diamond. To prepare the diamond for use in jewelry, it must be cut and faceted by a skilled craftsman. The skill of this person has a lot to do with the final value of the finished stone. A skillfully cut diamond increases in value greatly. Likewise, a very valuable rough diamond that is poorly cut loses much of its original value. While the most sought after diamonds are colorless, this state is not true of diamonds in general. A diamond may display a variety of coloration, from pink, blue, yellow to smoke colored. Color is caused by various impurities within the stone. A diamond is also not perfectly clear. Some diamonds, probably most diamonds, will have a blurry or fuzzy area within the stone, called inclusions. The clearer the diamond, the more valuable that it will be. Some of these imperfections will not be visible to the naked eye and will be visible only with magnification. The term "Carat" is a measure of the weight of a diamond. (As opposed to the term Karat, which is a measure of Gold's purity) (Which is further opposed to the term Carrot, which is a long, thin orange vegetable) One Carat is equal to a weight of exactly 200 milligrams. Obviously, if all the other factors are equal, the larger the stone is, the more valuable it will be.


SEMI PRECIOUS GEMS: These stones are slightly more plentiful, and less durable and therefore less valuable than the precious gemstones. Examples include the Amethyst, Garnet, Turquoise, Jade, Citrine and Topaz. Semi precious stones can be just as beautiful as the precious stones are, but since they're somewhat more plentiful on Earth, they are less valuable.

This photo is of the semi precious stone, Garnet.


And this stone is a form of green quartz, known as Beryl


ORES: Ores are minerals from which you can get useable amounts of either metals or nonmetals. In order for an object to be classified as a metal, it must have certain characteristics.

1. It must have shiny, metallic surfaces.

2. All metals are conductors of both heat and electricity.

3. A metal is MALLEABLE or it has the property of MALLEABILITY. This means that a metal can be hammered into thin sheets without breaking.

4. A metal is DUCTILE or has the property of DUCTILITY. This means that the metal can be stretched into a thin wire without breaking.


Metals and nonmetals are separated from impurities in the ore by a process called SMELTING.

Before moving on to the next section, about mineral identification tests, let's take a quick look at the most sought-after metal of all.

Isn't it lovely?


And, here's a nugget of gold in its natural state. Keep your eyes out for these in your yard. Feel free to bring any that you find in to school and leave them on my desk!




 One of the most interesting hobbies around is the collecting of rocks and minerals. Making accurate identifications of the rock and mineral samples that you find in the field is an important part of the whole process. I think that identifying a mineral (or rock) is much like trying to solve a mystery, or find a criminal. First one must observe carefully all the evidence at hand. You collect evidence and match it to your list of suspects. Generally, one piece of evidence alone will not be enough to lead you to the guilty party. Often though, one piece of evidence might eliminate one suspect from your list. When one looks at all of the evidence together, often times it points to only one person. Identifying a mineral is much the same. You collect information and develop a list of possibilities. By looking at various physical and chemical characteristics of the mineral you are able to eliminate "suspects" that don't fit the evidence. Often, when you take into account all available physical characteristics, only one possible mineral choice remains. Chances are, you've just identified your first mineral!

Mineralogists use several tests or observations in order to make the identification of minerals an easier task. Minerals all have certain physical and chemical properties that do not change from one mineral to another of the same type. Some of these properties can help you to identify a particular mineral.

Some minerals can be identified by their COLOR. Color in a mineral is usually caused by impurities or chemicals within the mineral, so it is not usually an effective way to identify a mineral. A mineral may have picked up impurities from its local environment. However, some minerals differ from others ONLY by their color. In this instance, it becomes possible to identify which mineral you are dealing with simply by examining its color. Many of the minerals in the Quartz family, for example, differ from one another only in the area of color. For example, when the mineral is found in its clear form, it's called simply Quartz, while if it has a greenish coloration, it's known as Beryl. Pink Quartz is termed Rose Quartz, while quartz with a translucent white coloration is called Milky Quartz. Some quartz exhibits a brownish color, and is called Smokey Quartz. A prized type of quartz, often used in jewelry exhibits a lovely purple color and is called Amethyst. Other varieties of quartz often used in jewelry are the yellowish tinted Citrine and the rich black colored Onyx. All of these types of quartz share other physical properties, so we are left with only color to tell one from the other.


TEXTURE is another characteristic that may be used to identify a mineral. Texture is defined as the way a mineral feels. It may be greasy feeling, or earthy like clay. It may be powdery or smooth. Often, the property of texture gives us a clue as to the identity of a mineral.


LUSTER is described as how a mineral reflects light. There are two basic types of luster, metallic and nonmetallic. Obviously, a mineral with metallic luster, reflects light the way a metal does. They are shiny like a metal is shiny. A mineral may also have a nonmetallic luster, meaning it may be shiny, but it's not shiny in the same way that a metal is shiny. Some examples of nonmetallic luster are: Vitreous (looks like ice or water), pearly (looks like pearls), Silky and Adamantine (the type of brilliant shine that diamonds have).


STREAK is another test often used to help identify unknown minerals. A piece of unglazed porcelain tile is used to obtain a streak of powder from the mineral. Since some minerals always have the same color "streak", this test can sometimes give you another clue to the identity of your mineral.


HEFT is a simply way to estimate the Density of an unknown sample. First you take a mineral of known density and hold it in one hand. The unknown mineral is held in the other hand. As long as they are about the same size, you will be able to estimate the density of the unknown sample. It's not rocket science, but it does work.


HARDNESS is defined as the ability of a mineral to resist scratching. All minerals have a hardness, based on their physical properties. We use a scale developed by Frederic Mohs, called strangely enough, the MOHS SCALE of MINERAL HARDNESS to help us to identify a mineral's hardness. Mohs Scale rates the hardness of all minerals between 1 and 10, with one being the hardest. The softest mineral is Talc, rating only a 1 on Mohs Scale. The hardest substance on Earth is a Diamond, rating a 10 on Mohs scale. Every mineral on Earth will fall somewhere between a 1 and a 10 on this scale.







6-Orthoclase Feldspar





Geologists will often carry samples of many of these minerals with them. This allows them to determine the hardness of an unknown mineral by trying to scratch it with each of the 10 Mohs minerals. If it cannot be scratched by Talc, then its hardness is greater than one. If it cannot be scratched by Gypsum, then its hardness is greater than two. If it cannot be scratched by Calcite, then its hardness is greater than three, and so on. Often times, geologists will use common objects in order to estimate a mineral's hardness. It is sometimes easier to estimate the hardness of an unknown mineral rather than carry 10 bulky minerals with you. Common objects include your fingernail (Hardness of 2 1/2) , Copper penny (H:3), knife blade (H:5).

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