Accessory minerals are minerals found in igneous rocks that are not used for the classification or naming of the rock. These minerals may be commonly present in a type of rock, but the absence of the mineral would not change the general classification geologists give to the rock.
The two accessory minerals in the center of the picture above are greenish-black needles of aegirine (AY-jur-EEN) and orangish-pink analcime (uh-NAL-seem) crystals. These minerals are frequently found together in igneous intrusions of syenite like the one present at Granite Mountain, where this sample was collected.
Accessory minerals give important clues to geologists when trying to determine details about how a rock formed and how it changed over time. They can make up a substantial portion or a fairly insignificant portion of a rock. Some accessory minerals make up a sufficient portion of the rock to be included as a modifier in the name, such as “biotite syenite”. Adding such a modifier gives geologists quick and useful information about how this rock differs from standard syenite.
The sedimentary rock in the picture above is a sandstone with pebble molds. If the pebbles were present, this rock would be considered a conglomerate. Conglomerates consist of 2 mm or larger rounded fragments of rock, or clasts, surrounded by finer-grained sediment which geologists call “matrix”. The clasts in the rock above were pebble sized, 2-64 mm, and the matrix is sand sized.
Even though many of the clasts have been removed by erosion, we can tell that they were primarily shale pebbles. The sandy matrix was more resistant to erosion than the softer shale pebbles, so we are left with cavities where the pebbles were (pebble molds) on the rock’s surface. This creates an interesting optical illusion. Did you see the cavities as pebbles or as molds when you first looked at the picture?
This type of conglomerate is deposited by energetic and dynamic water, such as is found in rivers and waves. During higher flow periods, only large clasts are deposited. When flow is lower, finer-grained sediment settles in between the larger clasts.
(FOV approx. 1.5 mm, photo courtesy of Stephen Stuart)
The metallic crystal in the center of the photo above is a mineral known as brookite. It was collected in Magnet Cove, AR. This particular crystal is approximately 0.5 mm in diameter.
Brookite is one of three forms of titanium oxide (TiO2) that naturally occur in Arkansas. These three forms are what are known as “polymorphs”. Polymorphs are minerals that have the same chemical composition but their atoms are arranged differently creating differing crystal structures. It’s the mineral equivalent of being a fraternal twin instead of an identical twin!
The three types of TiO2 crystal found in Arkansas are brookite, anatase, and rutile. When geologists talk about a mineral’s stability, they are talking about how much of a change in temperature and/or pressure (stress) is necessary to change the crystal structure or composition. The more stress required to change it, the more stable the mineral. Brookite is the least stable of the three forms and therefore the rarest. Typically, brookite crystals are yellowish or reddish brown in color, but the variety found in Arkansas is commonly black which is due to the presence of the element niobium (Nb) as an impurity.
This mineral usually occurs around metamorphic rocks or igneous intrusions similar to the intrusion at Magnet Cove.
Pictured above are tracks of an Acrocanthosauras Atokensis: a bi-pedal predatory dinosaur. The tracks were discovered in 2011 in a gypsum mine north of Nashville Arkansas by workers at the mine. It is one of two such “dinosaur trackways” – as they are called – that have been discovered in this mine; The first one was unearthed in 1983. Dinosaur tracks are not common in Arkansas as most of the rocks here, which are very old, were deposited long before the dinosaurs existed.
The rocks where the tracks are preserved were deposited in the early Cretaceous Period sometime between 145 and 100 million years ago. At that time, the area south of the Ouachita Mountains was a broad coastal plain and the Gulf of Mexico waters reached all the way to southern Arkansas. A variety of dinosaur species tracks, both herbivore and carnivore, have been discovered in these trackways, indicating that the coastal area at that time was quite the dinosaur stomping ground.