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This Month's Featured Story

What Makes a Mineral vs. a Gemstone vs. a Crystal

After Many months of writing about minerals and crystals and gemstones, it was brought to our attention that perhaps not everyone may be in the know about why makes a differnce in these terms. They are not interchangeable and they do have specific meanings that distinguish them from each other. Sometimes the distinction can be important, especially if you're thinking about buying a gemstone, there are some question that are good to ask. 

What is a Mineral?

The definition of a minerals contains a list of criteria that firmly define what a mineral can be, and what it not. See the example animations.

  • It occurs naturally - It can be found in nature and is not a man-made substance.

  • It cannot contain organic molecules.

  • It is a solid in its environment, because of the next statement.

  • It has an ordered atomic or chemical structure that repeats itself in a predictable pattern. In other words, the atoms that make it up can be predicted in name and spacial configuration.

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Section of a Mineral Molecule

What is a Crystal?

The definition of a crystal contains a list of criteria that firmly define what a crystal is, and its definition includes more options than a mineral. Its criteria is a bit wider.

  • It occurs naturally or can be a man made substance. Synthetically created diamonds and rubies mimic a natural mineral, but because they are man-made they cannot be classified as a mineral.

  • It is a solid in its environment.

  • It can be inorganic, or organic in chemistry.

  • It has an ordered chemical structure that repeats itself in a predictable pattern.

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Section of DNA Molecule

What is a Gemstone?

The definition of a gemstone takes a different tact. It loosely describes what a gemstone should be, but to be honest, a gemstone can be many things that provide focus to a piece of jewelry.

  • Can be a precious or semi-precious stone. (A stone is non-metallic earth or mineral matter hardened together in a mass.)

  • A gemstone does not need to be a mineral or a crystal. Opals and amber are considered gemstones, but they don't meet the strict definition of either state. Even glass and coral or an ammonite fossil can be a gemstone, but its not a crystal or mineral.

  • Being rare, beautiful to the beholder, and a fairly hard substance can definately help with longevity of a jewelry piece, and are all good qualifications, but not required.

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Ammonite (Fossil-Opalized) Gemstone

Some Additional Context: In the three definitions, each one is unique. Its good to remember that these terms are often used incorrectly and sometimes interchangeably. By definition, a mineral has to be a crystal, but a crystal can be things that a mineral is not. Frozen water (ice) is a mineral, but sugar is a crystal since it contains organic chemistry. Fossils and opals can be considered gemstones, but they are not minerals, Crystalline substances like synthetic emerald can be a gemstones and a crystal, but are held to a different standard than naturally found gemstones. Even glass can be considered a gemstone, but it's not a mineral or a crystal, it merely serves as the focus of a jewelry piece. If your buying from someone you are not familiar with, best to ask what it is, and possibly what it is not, before you buy.

Previously featured

For the July story, we're featuring two minerals in a head-to-head shoot-out of chemistry and qualities. These two have caused a fair amount on consternation among mineralogist and collectors alike. They are, in a way, the same thing, but how the impurities within the mineral's structure organize themselves, makes all the difference.

So what's it gonna be? 

Gem Silica vs Chrysocolla
While these two minerals share the same color but they are from the same silicates mega-group of minerals. Here is how they break down. They are so similar that some people don't even think that they are different at all, but its the hardness and gem quality that sets them apart.

Gem Silica

Formula: SiO2 Chalcedony with Chrysocolla inclusions

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  • Very rare to find and is always found with copper deposits.

  • A vivid blue-green to turquoise colored variety of Chalcedony.

  • It is named for Silica Quartz family name.

  • Comes in around 6.5 to 7 on the Mols hardness scale.

  • Sometimes called Gem Chrysocolla, Chrysocolla Silica and Chrysocolla Chalcedony.

  • It is a Chalcedony colored by the same copper salts in the mineral Chrysocolla.

Gem Silica is a Chalcedony Quartz. Chalcedony is a form of Micro-crystalline Quartz (the crystals are so small that you can't see them with the human eye). This is why Gem Silica has a hardness around 7, since it is quartz with small amounts of Chrysocolla impurities that are spread within the Chalcedony. The Chrysocolla gives the silica its beautiful and vivid blue-green coloration.

Because Gem Silica is extremely rare to find, and it's a collector's gemstone, prices can be very high depending on its color and translucency–up to $200 dollars per carat. Because of this, there are many fakes on the market like common clear or milky chalcedony that is died to look like gem silica, or even lessor expensive Chrysoprase (Chalcedony colored by Nickel impurities), can be sold under the Gem Silica name. So buyer beware!

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Gem-Silica-cabochon

Natural Botryoidal Gem Silica: photo credit to the Arkenstone

Gem Silica Cabochon: Inspiration Mine, Gila County, Arizona.

Chrysocolla

Formula: Cu2-xAlx(H2-xSi2O5)(OH4)•nH2O

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  • A minerals that is always associated with secondary copper minerals.

  • A form of copper salt.

  • It is named for the greek words for gold-glue.

  • Comes in around 2.5 to 3.5 on the Mols hardness scale.

  • A member of the phyllosilicates group.

  • Chrysocolla is colored by the copper salts in the mineral.

  • It is blue to blue green in coloration, but is can be found in other colors.

Chrysocolla is a copper salt phyllosilicate (Silicate rings) with water in its structure. It might seem odd to have water in a mineral, but many minerals do have water as part of their chemistry. It is always found with other copper bearing minerals and around copper mines too. 

It was names by the greek Theophrastus in 315 B.C. and comes from the Greek "chrysos", meaning "gold," and "kolla", meaning "glue," in allusion to the name of the material used to solder gold. André-Jean-François-Marie Brochant de Villiers revived the name in 1808.

It is a relatively soft and easily broken structure. It is typically found as glassy botryoidal or rounded masses or bubbly crusts, and as jackstraw mats of tiny acicular crystals or tufts of fibrous crystals. There are no known large crystals of Chrysocolla. The Chrysocolla "crystals" are all pseudomorphs.

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Chrysocolla Formation: Powder-blue chrysocolla as stalactitic growths and as a thin carpet in vugs inside a boulder of nearly solid tyrolite from the San Simon Mine, Iquique Province, Chile (size: 14.1 x 8.0 x 7.8 cm)

Chrysocolla can often be covered and mixed in with Quartz crystals, Chalcedony and Calcite crystals making it very difficult to tell from real Gem Silica. The only way to know for sure is to have the specimen analyzed or looked at by an expert.

Spessartine Garnet

Manganese Aluminum Silicate (Mn3Al2Si3O12)

Spessartine is member of the Garnet group, and is known for its aesthetic orange and reddish-orange colors. This form of Garnet was once much rarer, but new abundant finds in Tanzania, China, and Pakistan have really put Spessartine on the map, making it very well regarded. Spessartine forms a solid solution series with Almandine, and can be virtually indistinguishable from it in localities where both these Garnets occur together. Re-named in 1832 by François Sulpice Beudant after its type locality in the Spessart Mountains, Germany. Previously distinguished as a "manganesian" garnet by Henry Seybert in 1823 using mineral from Haddam, Connecticut, USA. Originally, this mineral, from Spessart Mountains, was called "granatförmiges Braunsteinerz" in 1797 by Martin Klaproth.

A new outstanding occurrence of bright orange Spessartine crystals in Tanzania was first brought to the market in 2008. The deposit is in Nani, Loliondo, Arusha Region, near the Serengeti National Park. Bright orange crystals once came from Marienfluss, Kunene Region, Namibia, but these high quality Spessartine forms are very hard to come across today. Another important African locality is the Jos Plateu, Nigeria. Malaya Garnet (a trade name for Garnet intermediary between Spessartine and Pyrope) is well-known from Mwakaijembe in the Umba River Valley, Tanzania.

Another recent outstanding discovery of Spessartine was in China, where it first discovered in the late 1990's in Tongbei and Yunling, Zhangzhou Prefecture. The Chinese Spessartine is often in dense aggregates of small gemmy crystals coating Smoky Quartz. The finest dark red Spessartine, usually associated with contrasting white Albite, comes from Pakistan at Shengus and the Shigar Valley, Skardu District; and in the Gilgit District. Spessartine of similar quality is also found in Darra-i-Pech, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.

Lustrous Spessartine, sometimes in complex crystals with deep etchings, comes from several of the gem pegmatite in Minas Gerais, Brazil, especially at Conselheiro Pena, São José da Safira, and Galiléia, all in the Doce valley. Especially noted is the Navegadora Mine in São José da Safira which produces heavily etched contorted crystals. Other worldwide Spessartine occurrences include Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia; Val Codera, Sondrio, Italy; San Piero in Campo, Elba Island, Italy; and Iveland, Aust-Agder, Norway.

In the U.S., the most well-known occurrences of Spessartine are the Little Three Mine, Ramona, San Diego Co., California; the Pack Rat Mine, Jacumba, San Diego Co., California; Ruby Mountain, Nathrop, Chaffee Co., Colorado; East Grants Ridge, Cibola Co., New Mexico; and the Thomas Range, Juab Co., Utah.

Sources: Mindat.org, geology.com, minerals.com

Fujian Province Spessartine Garnets

Example of Spessartine Garnets from the Fujian Province, China.

Spessertine-Almandine-Pyrope Garnets

Triangle Chemical Chart of the Pyralsprites garnet group that features Spessartine-Pyrope and Almandine garnet families.

Spessartite Garnets with Cut Gemstones

Several natural uncut Spessartine garnets with cut gemstones made from the same group of crystals. Spessartine gemstones are most prized for their neon-orange to orange-red colors

Spessartine Garnet Close-Up

Example of Spessartine Garnets on matrix as originally found after cleaning. Garnets are known for often form geometric crystals like decahedrons & isocahedron-like shapes.

Spessartine and Smokey Quartz

Example of Spessartine Garnets on that have formed over Smokey Quartz in China.

What Makes Minerals Fluorescent?

Reprinted from Rock & Gem Digital Posting with additions. Original story by Bob Jones.

Fluorite, Scapolite, Willemite with Calcite and Franklinite

The short answer is that some minerals are self-activators. Others depend on some form of impurity that acts as an activator. Minerals that are fluorescent under ultraviolet light are beautiful and fun, however, the great majority of minerals do not respond with color under ultraviolet light. Estimates vary from 10 to 15 percent of the known 5,000 minerals may respond. Including the rare earth elements, there are over 30 different common elements and ions that can cause fluorescence.

Self-Activating Minerals

Self-activating minerals use their own electrons to absorb ultraviolet energy giving their electrons the energy to shift away from the atom’s nucleus to the next higher energy level, or orbital. The remaining light energy is out of balance and reemitted and can be seen as a visible color. Ultraviolet energy is not visible so what you see is the lower electromagnetic energy level resulting from the action of the activator.

What Makes Minerals Fluorescent - Activators

The great majority of activators are atoms of certain metal elements which become part of the mineral’s chemistry by taking the place of atoms in the host mineral. For example, sodium chloride halite normally lacks color but if trace manganese atoms are present, they make the halite glow a lovely red under short wave ultraviolet radiation. When the electrons in a responding mineral shift to a higher orbit they can’t stay there indefinitely. They are constantly shifting with blinding speed between their normal position and a higher orbital as the ultraviolet energy continues. Even though the electrons are shifting, the color we see is steady.

The Process
Fluorescent minerals contain certain atoms with electrons that are taken up to a higher excited energy levels by absorbing energy from the incoming ultraviolet light. These electrons instantly fall back to their original energy levels, giving off energy in form of visible emitted light. This takes place in a very small fraction of a second. We see only the resultant visible light emitted as long as the atoms are exposed to the ultraviolet light. Depending on the energy released when electron returning to their original level, minerals exhibit different fluorescence colors.

Known Activators

As we gain greater ability to pick apart a mineral, we are finding more activators at work and they are not all metal elements. Some are more complex ions. Activators like uranyl oxide are regular participants in many radioactive minerals even with the trace manganese. These common activators have joined with some odd elements you would not think could trigger a color such as lead (Pb) in hydrozincite and sulfur (S) in sodalite, a variety of hackmanite from Canada.

What Makes Minerals Fluorescent - Rare Earth Elements

Rare earth elements are common activators. You see these elements listed at the bottom of the Periodic Table because they share many of the same chemical, physical, and mineralogical properties and a similar electron configuration of two valence electrons in an outer orbital. Since rare earths often occur together in the same deposit, it is inevitable when an activator is present it can be any one of a suite of rare earths rather than just one element.

Two or more rare earth elements have been identified as causing fluorescence in some fluorite, strontianite, calcite, esperite, fluorapatite, powellite and scheelite. These last two are self-activating most often but can also respond to rare earths. The tungstate ion in scheelite is what responds to ultraviolet excitation, usually a brilliant blue under shortwave. In powellite, it is the manganese oxide ion that is the main activator causing a yellow response.

Why Activators Work

There is one other factor worth considering with activators. Why does an activator function only in certain minerals and not in all minerals? There are two reasons. The activator has to have a proper valence or number of electrons in its outer orbital, very often two. Its atoms also have to be close in size to the host atom that it replaces so it becomes part of the mineral’s chemistry and fits in the mineral’s lattice structure.

Manganese

Manganese is the most common activator. It is found in many of the minerals from the Franklin and Sterling Hill mining district in New Jersey causing the town of Franklin to be named the Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World. Manganese is a transition metal element which means its outer orbital can hold a varying number of electrons, in this case, two-three or four. They can be shared and become the agent in chemical bonding.

Usually, it is manganese valence two that ends up as a trace metal serving as an activator. In the mineral calcite, for example, it has a valence of two and can replace some calcium atoms with a similar valence in the mineral’s lattice structure. Franklin-Sterling Hill calcite depends on manganese as its activator. The calcite can respond as a brilliant red. Studies have shown the optimum content of manganese activator in calcite at Franklin for a strong fluorescent response is about three percent. Too much of a good thing and the response is diminished, or not there at all.

The same valence two of manganese is also responsible for other fluorescent minerals from the Franklin mine. This is because these are zinc minerals and zinc has a valence of two.

 

Size Matters

How about the size of atoms? Zinc atoms are close enough in size to manganese that they can replace some zinc. Willemite easily accepts manganese atoms as an activator resulting in a bright fluorescent response but in this case green, not red.

What Makes Minerals Fluorescent - Other Activators

Other activators are not simple elements. Some minerals may contain a trace of organic material like natural oil and will fluoresce. I recall collecting fluorite that included organics in the quarry at Clay Center, Ohio. The pale brown transparent fluorite cubes had a creamy or slightly bluish color depending on the type of ultraviolet lamp used. Doubly terminated quartz crystals found in Herkimer, New York, may show fluorescence. “Herkimer Diamonds” developed in cavities created by organic stromatolites which existed millions of years ago. They died and left behind organic material which is picked up by the quartz as it forms. That’s what causes the fluorescence.

Recently Discovered Activators

We now know there is another group of activators not known decades ago consisting of two or three different elemental ions. Such things as carbon trioxide (CO3 ) in calcite or topaz may cause a response. Much more important in topaz is the activator titanium oxide ion (TiO6). California’s official gemstone is benitoite a titanium mineral. It fluoresces blue in short wave thanks to the titanium oxide ion (TiO3). Certainly, the most frequently seen ion as an activator is uranyl ion (UO2). It shows up in a host of radioactive minerals as well as other species.

(Back, Left to right) Fluorite, Scapolite, Willemite with Calcite and Franklinite (Front, Left to right) Willemite with Franklinite, Calcite, Opal var. Hyalite

Dugway Geode - normal and UV light

Fluorescent Dugway Geode: Many Dugway geodes contain fluorescent minerals and produce a spectacular display under UV light! Specimen and photos by SpiritRock Shop.

4-colored, fluorescent specimen is from the famous Franklin Mine

This spectacular, 4-colored, fluorescent specimen is from the famous Franklin Mine, Franklin, Sussex County, New Jersey. Minerals are Clinohedrite, Hardystonite, Willemite, and Calcite. 

Quenchers

While it seems that all radioactive minerals should fluoresce, they do not. Uraninite, the main uranium oxide mineral does not respond at all. A host of the popular radioactive minerals, like autunite, do fluoresce. But, the copper uranium mineral torbernite may not. This brings up the idea of quenchers, trace minerals that inhibit or prevent a fluorescent response.

Copper promotes good color in many minerals like azurite and malachite. If copper is present in non-copper species that might otherwise fluoresce, they will not. Copper quenches the fluorescence, but not always. Normally, adamite is just about colorless but a little copper gives it that rich lime green color. Mexican adamite will fluoresce a bright green color because of the uranyl ion. The fluorescent response varies from brilliant green to no response at all. It all depends on the copper-uranyl relationship controlling the effects of ultraviolet.

Another quencher is iron. But again we find a conundrum. Iron minerals don’t fluoresce. But the iron in trace amounts of a mineral can be an activator as in some feldspars like anorthoclase. It can also be an activator in petalite and pectolite, though they tend to react better with other activators. Iron ions are also responsible for many gemstone's colorations of blues and yellows in teh visible spectrum.

Unknown Activators

There are still a great number of minerals that fluoresce because of some unknown activator. A particular mineral species may or may not fluoresce depending on where it is found. This is what makes collecting fluorescent minerals so exciting. Coupled with the wide range of ultraviolet equipment, and the continuing discovery of more mineral species that fluoresce, the hobby will continue to grow.

Sources: https://www.earthsciences.hku.hk/shmuseum/earth_mat_1_2_6.php, https://geology.com/articles/fluorescent-minerals/, https://geology.com/articles/fluorescent-minerals/, https://www.naturesrainbows.com/post/clinohedrite-hardystonite-willemite-and-calcite-franklin-mine-franklin-new-jersey

For the March story, we're featuring two minerals in a head-to-head shoot-out of chemistry and qualities. Once again, these two minerals are named very similarly but are quite different.

So what's it gonna be? 

Rosolite vs Rubellite!
While these two minerals share reddish names but they are from two completely different families within the silicates mega-group of minerals. Here is how they break down.

Rosolite

Formula Ca3Al2(SiO4)3 - Garnet Family

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  • Usually found as Isometric and geometric crystals in small pockets.

  • A light pink to red variety of Grossular Garnet.

  • It is named for its pinkish-red color.

  • Comes in around 6.5 to 7 on the Mols hardness scale.

  • Sometimes called Raspberry Garnet for its appearance.

  • Garnets are a very diverse group of minerals that share a varied chemical structure with a silicate core.

Rubellite

Formula A(D3)G6(T6O18)(BO3)3X3Z - Tourmalines

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  • Typically found in columnar prismatic crystals in the trigonal crystal habit

  • From the latin word 'rubellus' meaning 'reddish'.

  • Comes in at about 7 on the Mols hardness scale.

  • Large transparent red Rubellite crystals are rare and highly sought after by collectors.

  • The tourmaline family is a large and colorful family of minerals. Rubellite is the pink to red variety of Elbaite Tourmaline and is very rare.

  • Sometime mistaken for Ruby.

Rosolite Grossular Garnet

Rosolite Garnet Crystal from Lake Jaco area in Sierra de la Cruz, Coahuila, Mexico.

Rubelite Tourmaline

Rubellite in matrix from Jonas Mine, Conselheiro Pena, Doce valley, Minas Gerais, Southeast Region, Brazil

For Your Favorite Collector at the Holidays...

Six Rare and Collectable Gemstones & Minerals Ideas

There are probably thousands of rocks and minerals that we could call the rarest and most expensive that have come and gone, but what about the ones that are still somewhat readily collectible? If you want to surprise your favorite collector, here are some of the best rocks and minerals still available in a short list that should give you a great start:

Gem Silica

Chrysocolla is a beautiful blue mineral often mistaken for turquoise. Unfortunately, Chrysocolla in its purest form, is soft and brittle, making it unsuitable for use in jewelry. Occasionally, the same copper salts that give Chrysocolla its wonderful blue color, naturally stain normally colorless chalcedony quartz, giving it a wonderful translucent to transparent blue color. Natural Gem Silica is extremely rare and cabochons made from high-quality Gem Silica can cost more than $100 per carat. Other gemstones made from chalcedony include Chrysoprase and Carnelian. These gemstones, while beautiful, are not nearly so rare and are considerably less expensive. Due to the high demand and high price of quality Gem Silica, care should be taken when purchasing Gem Silica. There are many examples of lower quality non-transparent, Chrysocolla being sold today.

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British ColumbianJade

There are two completely different types of Jade, Nephrite Jade, and Jadeite. British Columbia Green Jade is a type of Nephrite Jade. Jadeite is about the same hardness as quartz. Nephrite Jade is softer than Jadeite, however, it is much tougher (harder to break), making it ideal for carving and use in jewelry as well as non-traditional uses such as interior or exterior tiles. Described as the “toughest natural stone on earth”, Nephrite Jade is extremely hard to mine because traditional mining methods are virtually useless due to the toughness of the material, and using explosives proves damaging to the Jade.

          Extreme high-pressure hydraulic splitters can be used if there are any existing fractures available in the jade however typically, the jade is removed by using huge circular diamond saws or diamond wire saws. Very short summer conditions also prevent British Columbia Jade from being extracted for a few months per year. Although the deposits of Nephrite Jade are quite extensive, the costs associated with extracting the material, along with the short summers and limited production, make it difficult to satisfy the demand for high-quality jade.

Russian Charoite

Russian Charoite is a beautiful lavender to deep purple gemstone with swirls of other colors such as green, black, and sometimes orange. The most notable characteristic of Russian Charoite besides the wonderful color is its chatoyancy or better known as the “cat’s-eye effect”. Russian Charoite was first discovered in the late 1940s although it did not become popular until recent years.

Over the last few years, the price for Russian Charoite has shot up dramatically. Those who were fortunate to invest in Charoite several years ago made a great investment indeed!

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Meteor Rock

Rarer than gold, platinum, or diamonds, meteor rock, or meteorites, commonly known as fallen stars, can sell for many times the price of gold, sometimes selling for more than $300 per gram. These bits and pieces of space debris, survived their fiery descent through the earth’s atmosphere, landing on earth, just waiting to be found by treasure hunters. Each meteorite has its unique size and shape and is usually made up of stone or iron.

The most common meteorites are made of iron and nickel. If they are polished and acid-etched, they will display a wonderful geometric pattern that is highly sought after by collectors.

Victoria Stone

Seldom do man-made stones get classified as gemstones. Victoria Stone is one of those rare exceptions. Created by Dr. Imori beginning in the late 1960s, Victoria Stone was created using a mixture of natural minerals such as quartz, feldspar, calcite, and magnesite.

          These natural minerals were melted and then were made to crystallize using his secret formula, creating a new rock that has wonderful patterns and chatoyancy (cat’s-eye effect). Unfortunately, Dr. Imori died before passing on his secret formula and the process has never been duplicated. As a result, Victoria Stone is quite rare today and commands a hefty price.

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imori.jpg

Lander Blue Turquiose

If we’re looking for the rarest and most valuable turquoise in the world, you would be looking for Lander Blue Turquoise. Lander Blue Turquoise was mined in Lander County, Nevada, and was first claimed in 1973. Less than 110 pounds of this fantastic bright blue spider-web turquoise was ever mined.

          If you want to collect some of this rarest of turquoise, expect to pay over $200 per carat and that’s for the small cabochons.

NevadaBlueTurquoise.jpg

Happy Hunting!

For the December story, we're featuring two minerals in a head-to-head shoot-out of chemistry and qualities. Once again, these two minerals are named very similarly but are quite different.


Zincite vs Zinkenite!
While these two minerals have a similar name, they are from two completely different families of minerals. Here is how they stack up to each other.

Zincite

Formula ZnO - Oxides Family

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  • Found as translucent hexagonal di-pyramidal crystals in red, orange, yellow, white, and sometimes green coloration.

  • Originally called Red Oxide of  Zinc and Starolite.

  • Comes in around 4 on the Mols hardness scale.

  • Most Zincite crystals are a man-made by-product.

Zincinite

Formula Pb9Sb22S42 - Sulfosalts Family

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  • Typically found in columnar crystals that strongly resemble stibnite. Small clusters of crystals can be needle-like formations.

  • Named after Johann Zinken and contains no Zinc.

  • Comes in at about 3.5 on the Mols hardness scale.

  • Its crystals are often an opaque metallic steely coloration.

Zincite is the mineral form of zinc oxide (ZnO). Its crystal form is rare in nature; a notable exception to this is at the Franklin and Sterling Hill Mines in New Jersey, an area also famed for its many fluorescent minerals. It has a hexagonal crystal structure and a color that depends on the presence of impurities. The zincite found at the Franklin Red coloration is mostly due to iron and manganese, and associated with willemite and franklinite.

Zincite crystals can be grown artificially, and synthetic zincite crystals are available as a by-product of zinc smelting. Synthetic crystals can be colorless or can range in color from dark red, orange, or yellow to light green.

Zinkenite is one of a few sulfide minerals that form fine acicular crystals that appear as hair-like fibers. The fibrous aggregates may be so thick as to cover a specimen with a mat of hair-like fibers or it may be sparsely disseminated between other minerals and may be confused with stray hairs or dark lint. Jamesoniteboulangerite, and millerite are other sulfides that form similar acicular crystals. These sulfides as well as zinkenite have been called "feather ores" because of this unusual habit. Zinkenite is a sulfosalt, a segment of sulfides where the antimony acts more like a metal than a non-metal and occupies a position where it is bonded to sulfurs. A variety of zinkenite from Tasmania contains small amounts of silver.

Man-made Zincite Crystals

Orange-Red Zincite Crystals from a Polish Zinc Smelting Plant.

Zinkenite Crystals

Zinkenite Crystal from the San Jose Mine in Bolivia

Red Beryl

A Gem ‘Rarer Than Diamond and More Valuable Than Gold’

Red Beryl Crystal
Red Beryl Cut Gemstone
Red Beryl

"What Gemstone is found in Utah that is rarer than diamond and more valuable than gold?” That was the compelling headline penned in 2002 by the Utah Geological Survey to introduce its readers to red beryl, a little-known gemstone found primarily in the state’s Wah Wah Mountains.

Discovered in 1904 by Maynard Bixby, this raspberry-red gem had the bookkeeper-turned-miner scratching his head. He had a hunch that the stunning crystals represented a variety of beryl, but the red color didn’t correlate with any beryl known to exist at the time.

Today, the best-known varieties of beryl include emerald (green), aquamarine (blue), morganite (pink), and heliodor (yellow). One year after Bixby’s discovery, W.F. Hillebrand, a geochemist from the National College in Washington, D.C., confirmed that Bixby’s find was a new type of beryl. In 1912, Dr. A. Eppler named the fiery gem “bixbite” in his honor.

The name beryl comes from the Greek word “Beryllos” which means sparkling or brilliant. The well-known varieties of beryl include emerald, aquamarine, and morganite. With Mohs hardness of 7.5-8.0, they are not as hard as topaz, rubies, sapphires or diamonds, but they are all suitably hard for jewelry applications.

Over time, bixbite assumed several names, including “red emerald” and the more proper “red beryl.” The name bixbite fell out of favor because it was often confused with bixbyite, a black manganese iron oxide also discovered by Bixby, in 1897.

Even though more than 100 years have passed since Bixby first encountered the curious red variety of beryl, the mineral has been unearthed in just a few locations — Utah’s Thomas Range, Utah’s Wah Wah Mountains, and New Mexico’s Black Range. The extremely rare variety of the mineral which gets its red color from trace amounts of manganese, red beryl has only been discovered in Utah, New Mexico, and Mexico. Furthermore, the Ruby Violet mine in the Wah Wah Mountains of Utah closed in 2001, is the only source in the world that has provided crystals suitable for cutting. The Utah Geological Survey estimated that one crystal of red beryl is found for every 150,000 gem-quality diamonds. In 2006 the Jewelers Association designated red beryl as the world’s rarest colored gemstone.

Of the three, only the Wah Wah Mountains have produced gem-grade crystals that are large enough to be faceted. The gems are primarily sourced at the Ruby-Violet Claim in Beaver County, Utah. The best specimens of red beryl display a raspberry-pink to slightly purplish-red color.

Writing for the Utah Geological Survey, Carl Ege noted that red beryl was worth 1,000 times more than gold and was so rare that one red beryl crystal is found for every 150,000 diamonds. Because red beryl is rarely found in large sizes, the Gemmological Association of Great Britain estimated that a 2-carat beryl has the same rarity as a 40-carat diamond.

The British gem association reported that the largest known faceted red beryl weighs in at 8 carats.

Gemsociety.org wrote that most fine red beryl crystal specimens are “zealously guarded by mineral collectors and never faceted.” The one shown, above, is part of the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection in Washington, DC.

Sources: https://www.igi.org/gemblog/whats-150000-times-more-rare-than-diamond/, https://instoremag.com/red-beryl-a-gem-rarer-than-diamond-and-more-valuable-than-gold/

For the September story, we're featuring two minerals in a head-to-head shoot-out of chemistry and qualities. Once again, these two minerals are named very similarly, but are quite different.

So what's its gonna be? 

Rhodonite vs Rhodochrosite!
While these two minerals are related in many ways, they are from two completely different families of minerals. Here is how they breakdown.

Rhodonite

Formula CaMn3Mn[Si5O15] - Inosilicates Family

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  • Rarely found as tabular red crystals, usually in clusters with the crystals growing parallel to one another, or nearly so. Also as pink masses with other metallic minerals.

  • Named after the greek word for rose.

  • Comes in around 6 on the Mols hardness scale.

Rhodochrosite

Formula MnCO3 - Calcite Family

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  • Typically found in rhombic (square-ish) crystals or as stalactites, kind of like calcite often forms. Polished and tumbled stones can resemble rose quartz.

  • It is also named from the greek for rose coloring.

  • Comes in at about 3.5 on the Mols hardness scale.

  • Large translucent red Rhodochrosite crystals are rare and highly sought after by collectors.

Rhodonite is a pink manganese silicate mineral of variable composition that often contains significant amounts of iron, magnesium, and calcium. It has a generalized chemical composition of (Mn,Fe,Mg,Ca)SiO3. Rhodonite is often associated with black manganese oxides which may occur as dendrites, fracture-fillings, or matrix within the specimen. Other names for rhodonite include "manganese spar" and "manganolite." Rhodonite is an uncommon mineral. It is found in a few small deposits across the world. 

Rhodochrosite is a manganese carbonate mineral that ranges in color from light pink to bright red. It is found in a small number of locations worldwide where other manganese minerals are usually present. Rhodochrosite is sometimes used as an ore of manganese but is rarely found in economic quantities. Specimens with a wonderful pink color are used to produce highly desirable gemstones. Rhodochrosite is rarely found as well-formed crystals, so crystals can be extremely valuable as mineral specimens.

Rhodochrosite Cabochon

Pink & White - Rhodochrosite!

Rhodochrosite-South Africa

Red Rhodochrosite Dogtooth Crystal

Rhodochrosite Stalactite

Rhodochrosite stalactite slab cross-section

Tumbled-Rhodonite-Madagascar

Pink & Black - Rhodonite!

Rhodonite Cabochons

Rhodonite Cabochons

This month's article is going to be a bit different. Instead of featuring one mineral or fossil, were going to have a skirmish. A head-to-head contest between two minerals who happen to have names that are soooo similar that even mineral collectors will pause and have to think about what it is that we're talking about. We plan to do this a few more times in the hopes of making it fun and provide some learning about the mineral world as well.

So what's it gonna be? 

Baryte vs Beryl!
While these two minerals are related in some ways, they are from two completely different families of minerals, and to add to the confusion, one often gets spelled differently too. Now for the breakdown.

Baryte

Formula BaSO4 - Sulfate Family

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  • Typically found as thick to thin tabular crystals, usually in clusters with the crystals growing parallel to one another, or nearly so. Also as bladed, white masses or flowery like clusters of crystals.

  • Named for its heaviness as a non-metallic mineral.

  • Comes in at a 3 on the Mols hardness scale.

Baryte is often written as Barite and it's fairly soft for a mineral. Too soft to make gemstones out of, but it can be very pretty forming transparent blue, yellow, and clear crystals. The mineral baryte is mined as a source of Barium and is used in many industrial products and processes. Many mineral collectors will have a few pieces in their collection for their interesting shape, colors and it's not too expensive for some really interesting pieces.

Blue Baryte

Blue Baryte

Yellow Baryte

Yellow Baryte

Beryl

Formula Be3Al2(Si6O18) - Cyclosilicates Family

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  • Typically found in hexagonal columnar crystals.

  • Its name is so old that we guess it came from the greek "beryllos" which referred to a number of blue-green stones in antiquity.

  • Comes in at a 7.5 to 8 on the Mols hardness scale.

  • Beryls are known by different names based on their color, like green for emerald.

Beryl is known for its stunning rainbow of colors. It is prized as a gemstone in jewelry. Prized beryls come in red (Bixbite), green (Emerald), light blue (Aquamarine), yellow (Heliodor), purple-blue (Maxixe), pink (Morganite), and colorless (Goshenite). Many people favor Beryls over diamonds and rubies as their favorite gemstone. Large and tall beryl crystals of clean, bright colors are highly prized by collectors and gemologists.

Varieties of Beryl

The Colors of Beryl

The Biggest Bug ever!

The Prehistoric Dragonfly with a Two-foot Wingspan

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Image Credit: Fossil of Meganeuridae

The largest known insect of all time was a predator resembling a dragonfly but was only distantly related to them. Its name is Meganeuropsis permiana, and it ruled the skies before pterosaurs, birds, and bats had even evolved.

Most popular textbooks make mention of “giant dragonflies” that lived during the days before the dinosaurs. This is only partly true, for real dragonflies had still not evolved back then. Rather than being true dragonflies, they were the more primitive ‘griffin flies’ or Meganisopterans. Their fossil record is quite short. They lasted from the Late Carboniferous to the Late Permian, roughly 317 to 247 million years ago.

Meganisoptera is an extinct family of insects, all large and predatory and superficially like today’s odonatans, the dragonflies, and damselflies. And the very largest of these was Meganeuropsis. It is known from two species, with the type species being the immense M.permiana. Meganeuropsis permiana, as its name suggests is from the Early Permian timeframe.

The fossils of Meganeura were first discovered in France in the year 1880. Then, in 1885, the fossil was described and assigned its name by Charles Brongniart who was a French Paleontologist. Later in 1979, another fine fossil specimen was discovered at Bolsover in Derbyshire.

There has been some controversy as to how insects of the Carboniferous period were able to grow so large.

Some leading Ideas are that oxygen levels and atmospheric density were different during the early Permian.

The way oxygen is diffused through the insect's body via its tracheal breathing system puts an upper limit on body size, which prehistoric insects seem to have well exceeded. It was originally proposed that Meganeura was able to fly only because the atmosphere at that time contained about 15% more oxygen than the present 20%.

Another explanation for the large size of Meganeurids is comparing it to living predators is warranted. It was suggested in 2004 that the lack of aerial vertebrate predators allowed pterygote insects to evolve to maximum sizes during the Carboniferous and Permian periods, perhaps accelerated by an evolutionary "arms race" for an increase in body size between plant-feeding Palaeodictyoptera and Meganisoptera as their predators.

Another theory suggests that insects that developed in water before becoming terrestrial as adults grew bigger as a way to protect themselves against the high levels of oxygen. They grew in size simply because the ecosystem allowed them to, and the increased levels of oxygen have been shown to help today's insects grow larger when kept in an oxygen-rich atmosphere.

Interesting Facts

  • Though always associated with the modern-day dragonflies due to their appearance, considering the various structural and other characteristic differences between them, these insects were often classified as griffin flies.
     

  • It was one of the largest known insects that ever lived, with a reconstructed wing length of 330 millimeters (13 in), an estimated wingspan of up to 710 millimeters (28 in), and a body length from head to tail of almost 430 millimeters (17 in).
     

  • The term 'Meganeura' means large-veined, and these insects had similar vein patterns in their wings. However, the vein patterns found in the wings of dragonflies usually vary.
     

  • It is believed that their hunting and preying methods were quite similar to those of modern-day dragonflies. However, it may have attacked many more creatures because of its larger size.
     

  • Their wings had a network of veins. Moreover, they were heavily veined and had cross braces for strength unlike those of the present-day dragonflies that have delicate wings.
     

  • They believe that it was impossible for the massive bodies of these insects to survive in the present-day atmospheric conditions and that this may have led to their extinction. (The oxygen content in today's atmosphere is up to 21% and back in the Carboniferous period, it was up to 35%.)
     

  • The breathing mechanism of these insects allowed the passage of air through a system of tracheal tubes, transporting the oxygen directly to the internal tissues.

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Size Comparison

Dragonfly Larvae

Today's Dragon Fly Larvae

Fossil Dragonfly Larve

Fossil of a Dragonfly Larvae

A New Russian Mineral Discovery that's More than a Pretty Face

Petrovite

A research team led by crystallographer (crystal specialist) Stanislav Filatov at St. Petersburg University found a colorful new entry into the world of minerals: petrovite. Petrovite is beautiful to look at, but it could also help inspire advancements in next-generation batteries.

The research team that found petrovite was headed by crystallography professor Stanislav Filatov, who studied the minerals of Kamchatka for over 40 years. The area offers amazing mineralogical diversity, with dozens of new minerals found there in recent years, according to the university's press release. Specifically, Filatov focused his attention on scoria (or cinder) cone volcanos and lava flows formed after the eruptions of the Tolbachik Volcano.

The bright blue mineral comes from a wild place: a volcanic landscape formed by major eruptions in the 1970s and the 2010s in the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. "This territory is unique in its mineralogical diversity. In recent years, researchers have discovered dozens of new minerals here, many of which are one-of-a-kind in the world," the university said in a statement on Tuesday

The mineral is named for another St. Petersburg University crystallographer, Tomas Petrov. The team published a study on petrovite in the journal Mineralogical Magazine earlier this year.

Petrovite is particularly interesting because it's a rarity in its composition and structure. Petrovite is a blue-green mineral, with the chemical formula of Na10CaCu2(SO4)8. "The mineral consists of oxygen atoms, sodium sulphur and copper, which form a porous framework," the university states. "The voids are connected to each other by channels through which relatively small sodium atoms can move." 

The scientists think its structure of voids connected by channels, which can pass through small sodium atoms, holds potential for ionic conductivity. The mineral may be adaptable as cathode material in sodium-ion batteries. Due to the abundance of salt, sodium-ion batteries could be a very inexpensive alternative to lithium-ion batteries you can commonly find in many devices today.

Besides researchers from St. Petersburg University, other Russian scientists involved came from the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Grebenshchikov Institute of Silicate Chemistry.

Petrovite was born in a fiery place in the wild, but Filatov said researchers could look into synthesizing a compound with its same structure in a lab for use in battery development. That would be quite a journey from a volcano to powering gadgets in people's homes.

Sources: https://www.cnet.com/news/scientists-discover-beautiful-blue-new-mineral-petrovite/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrovite, https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/newly-discovered-mineral-petrovite-could-revolutionize-batteries?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3, Cambridge University Press.

Petrovite
Petrovite Chemistry

The Chemical Structure of Petrovite with copper centers surrounded by seven oxygen atoms shared in silicate tetrahedrons

Petrovite found in the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia with a color that gives clues to its copper-centered chemistry.

Sphene

The Beautiful Green Hulk of a Gem!

Chrome Titanite
Natural Titanite Crystal
Titanite Dispersion!

Sphene comes from the Greek word “sphenos,” meaning wedge, a reference to the mineral’s characteristic wedge-shaped crystals. Sphene or titanite belongs to the titanite mineral group as the titanium-rich (Ti) member. It’s the only member of this group commonly used as a gemstone. While mineralogists officially use the term titanite to refer to this stone, many gemologists use the term sphene. By either name, however, these striking gems remain little known to most jewelry connoisseurs, despite reasonable availability.

Sphenes frequently come in yellow, orange, brown, and green hues, with many gradations between them, and often show color zoning. Iron (Fe) and rare-earth element impurities create these typical colors. Chromium (Cr) colors the rare “chrome sphene” variety an intense green. Sphenes can also occur colorless, red, blue, black, and brown.

Sphene’s dispersion or fire ranks among the highest in the gem world. However, its body color, degree of inclusions, cutting orientation, and cutting style may enhance or obscure this feature. Sphene is often pleochroic, showing more than one color depending on the angle from which you view it; sphene’s transparent specimens are notable for their trichroism, showing three different colors. 

Sphene has rich body colors, strong trichroism, and a fire that exceeds diamond. The dispersion of sphene is 0.051. A diamond’s dispersion, by comparison, is 0.044. It’s this high number that helps to give the stone such an intense “fire,” showcasing multiple colors, especially when it’s well-cut. Although softer than many more popular gems, sphenes can make wonderful jewelry stones if set and maintained properly.

As with many gemstones, colorclarity, and carat are the most important value factors, followed by the skill and artistry shown in cutting. A preference exists for lighter tones, especially yellows, light oranges, and greens, which best exhibit sphene’s magnificent dispersionSphene is usually included and rarely even eye-clean.

Chrome sphene is the most valuable type. The chrome sphene from Baja California is the color of a fine emerald and very rare, especially if clean and larger than one carat. Size is definitely a premium characteristic with this species. Brazilian yellow gem material has a sleepy look and isn’t as bright as that from Baja. Some of the largest and most spectacular green gems have been cut from Indian material.

In general, specimens with reasonably good clarity, strong and attractive body color, and at least some display of dispersion command the best prices.

Sphene’s relatively low hardness (5 to 5.5) and distinct cleavage make it a risky choice for jewelry. However, it also possesses gemological properties that make it a desirable piece for collectors as well as adventurous jewelry enthusiasts. It set properly, and worn with care, it makes a distinctive collector's choice.

Sources: hhttps://www.gemsociety.org/article/sphene-jewelry-and-gemstone-information/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanite, https://www.nationaljeweler.com/articles/976-5-things-to-know-about-sphene

Finding amazing Fossils

All of us have the potential to find a once in a lifetime find, including a 4-year-old girl from England.

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© Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum of Wales 

The 10-cm long footprint was discovered by Lily Wilder near Bendricks Bay in south Wales, on January 30, 2021. 

Paleontologists stunned by a perfectly preserved dinosaur footprint discovered by a 4-year-old girl

by Sophia Ankel (sankel@businessinsider.com)

Lily Wilder made the discovery on January 23 while walking along a beach in South Wales with her father and dog. The family was on their way to the supermarket when Wilder saw the footprint imprinted on a rock.

"It was on a low rock, shoulder height for Lily, and she just spotted it and said, 'look, Daddy,'" her mother, Sally Wilder, told NBC News. "She is really excited but doesn't quite grasp how amazing it is."

At first, the family thought the print, which is just over 10 cm (4 inches) long, was scratched out on the rock by an artist. But mother Sally was aware that similar footprints had been found along that piece of the coast before, so she posted about their discovery on social media.

"I found this fossil identification page on Facebook and I posted it on there and people went a bit crazy," she told Wales Online. Shortly after, The National Museum of Wales was in touch with the Wilder family, and officials have since retrieved the print and put it in the museum. The family says their daughter's interest in dinosaurs has been ignited since the discovery and that she's been playing with a collection of dino toys and models.

Experts believe the footprint was most likely left by a dinosaur that stood about 75 centimeters (29.5 inches) tall and 2.5 meters (about 8 feet) long and walked on its two hind feet. It is impossible to identify exactly what type of dinosaur left it, although experts typically classify the print as a Grallator.

Welsh scientists are calling the girl's discovery "the finest impression of a 215 million-year-old dinosaur print found in Britain in a decade," according to Wales Online. "It's so perfect and absolutely pristine. It's a wonderful piece," said Karl-James Langford from Archeology Cyrmu, according to Wales Online. "I would say it's internationally important and that is why the museum took it straight away. This is how important it is. I would say it's the best dinosaur footprint found in the UK in the past 10 years," he added.

The National Museum in Cardiff, which is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said that Lily and her classmates would be invited to the exhibition once it reopens. "What's amazing is, if her name goes down as the finder in the museum, it could be her grandchildren going to visit that in the museum one day, and for years and years and generations to come, which is quite amazing," mother Sally told Wales Online.

Go out and find your amazing find of a lifetime!

Sources: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/paleontologists-stunned-by-a-perfectly-preserved-dinosaur-footprint-discovered-by-a-4-year-old-girl/ar-BB1dg2V4?ocid=msedgntp

Proustite

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From Minerals.net

Proustite is an interesting mineral that contains silver in its chemical structure. It is one of the few silver-bearing minerals that can exhibit transparency. Proustite is usually transparent, with deep-red crystals, but may also be a darker, more metallic-looking form. However, even darker, more metallic Proustite will be visibly red and transparent when backlit.

 

Proustite is light sensitive. Prolonged exposure to bright light will darken its transparency and cause it to become darker. Exposure also may cause a dark, dull film to form on crystal faces; this film can be removed by brushing a specimen with soap and water.

 

Proustite is very similar to Pyrargyrite, and forms a series with it. Proustite is the arsenic-rich member, and Pyrargyrite is the antimony-rich member. It is often not possible to visually distinguish these two minerals from each other, though Proustite is usually lighter in color. Most good material in collections today are from closed, historical localities. Several classic European localities have produced highly desirable Proustite specimens. Relatively large crystals have come from the Erzgebirge in Germany at Freiberg, Schlema, and the Schneeberg Districts. Across the border in the Czech Republic, some of the earliest sources Proustite have come from Jáchymov, Krušné Hory Mts, Bohemia. Small Proustite crystals, often associated with Quartz, were once found in the Ste Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France.

 

A more recent producer of good Proustite crystals is Morocco, at the Imiter and Bou Azzer mines. In South America, some of the best examples of this mineral have come from Chañarcillo, Copiapo Province, Chile; and the Uchucchacua Mine, Oyon, Lima Department, Peru. In Canada, good crystal clusters and crusts of Proustites have come from the Cobalt region, Timiskaming District, Ontario

It forms prismatic crystals, often complex in form. Crystals are often elongated scalenohedrons with complex terminations. Also in blocky groups of stubby crystals, interpenetrating crystals, grainyencrustingbotryoidalglobular, and massive. May also form in intergrowths of three crystals, forming a trilling. Crystals are usually striated horizontally on an angle and may have complex growths and angles.

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Named by François S. Beudant in 1832 in honor of Joseph-Louis Proust (26 September 1754, Angers, France – 5 July 1826, Angers, France), chemist and actor, for Proust's work on the red silver minerals (proustite-pyrargyrite series). He is most famous for discovering the law of definite proportion, stating that chemical compounds always combine in constant proportions.

 

It has several other names that it is often called like Ruby Silver, Red Silver, Tears of Jesus, Blood of Christ, and Red Silver Ore. Proustite is a sulfosalt mineral consisting of silver sulfarsenide, Ag3AsS3.

Sources: https://www.minerals.net/mineral/proustite.aspx, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proustite, 

How Squishy Animals Evolved Strong Shells and Bones

From Futury, Science Magazine and the NCBI

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Credit: Pexels

The animal kingdom abounds with creatures that grow hard shells, carapaces, and skeletons. But complex life was pretty squishy at the beginning. A new study clarifies how and when things changed.

Animals with skeletons did not exist before about 550 million years ago. Then, scientists have proposed, atmospheric oxygen levels rose and the chemistry of the oceans changed in such a way that animals could harness the minerals required to build hard structural parts. A new analysis of ancient rock layers in Siberia provides support for this idea, showing that the oceans became rich in skeletal building blocks around the same time the first fossils of animals with skeletons start to appear.     

Researchers discovered that when carbonate skeletons were first evolving more than 500 million years ago, diverse groups of animals all converged on a similar, counterintuitive process for biomineralization. Today, many unrelated animals build their skeletons or shells out of calcium carbonate—including echinoderms, mollusks, and corals. Instead of building crystals ion-by-ion from the surrounding seawater, these animals use amorphous, or non-crystalline, nanoparticles as their building blocks of choice.

“In fact, crystallization by particle attachment actually seems to be the prevailing method of biomineralization as far as we can tell,” says Susannah Porter, a professor of earth science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Rather than building their skeletons at a molecular level, these animals first form nanoparticles of amorphous calcium carbonate. They then store these particles in vesicles that they can use to transport them to the site of crystallization. This method of crystallization was first documented more than 20 years ago in the teeth of sea urchins. Since then, scientists have noticed the process throughout the animal kingdom and involving different

minerals. What’s more, the different groups of animals seem to have independently settled on this method of biomineralization, so it must have something going for it. Given its ubiquity, Porter and her collaborators wanted to determine how far back they could find evidence of this process. Their findings appear in PNAS.

“We obviously can’t watch these Cambrian and Ediacaran organisms make their skeletons, so we need to have a proxy,” Porter says. First author Pupa Gilbert, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, had previously found that crystallization by particle attachment leaves an irregular particulate texture in the shells and skeletons when they’re viewed under a scanning electron microscope. The team saw this same tell-tale pattern upon imaging fossils more than 500 million years old. In fact, this signature preserved even in the material that had subsequently converted into another mineral.

“It’s spectacular,” Porter says, “the fact that we can see this detail at the sub-micrometer level.” Among the ancient material, Porter and her collaborators examined were fossils of Cloudina, a genus that includes some of the earliest animals that formed a mineralized skeleton. The genus was named after Preston Cloud, a late professor of biogeology and preeminent researcher in the study of early life. The team saw the same irregular nanoparticulate texture in Cloudina fossils as in other animals that form crystals by particle attachment. “This shows that even when animals were first evolving mineralized skeletons, and were maybe not so good at biomineralizing, they were already choosing this mechanism,” Porter says.

The findings suggest that, even early on, there was a selection for this particular mechanism across different

lineages. “When you see something that is selected for over and over again, it suggests that it is the most

advantageous one,” Porter says.

Although it’s counterintuitive that animals would use amorphous material to create the crystals that ultimately form their skeletons or shells, Porter says that this mechanism seems to permit greater control over mineralization than simply building ion by ion, as the traditional models suggested. For one, these particles are incredibly stable when confined in vesicles: The material doesn’t immediately crystallize but remains amorphous. This allows the animal to keep ingredients around and available yet maintain flexibility regarding when and where the mineralized skeleton forms.