The mineral in the above pictures is calcite, a common mineral in earth’s crust that is the main component of the sedimentary rock limestone. The stack of samples (top) exhibit a physical characteristic known as cleavage. The cleavage of calcite causes it to break into a rhombus-shape (see picture).
Cleavage is the tendency of a crystalline substance, such as a mineral, to break along parallel planes that reflect the internal arrangement of the atoms in the crystal. All crystals, by definition, have a uniform atomic arrangement. To illustrate this property, I’ve included a second picture (bottom), borrowed from Dr. Cathy Sutton, that shows an extremely magnified calcite crystal. The repeating rhombus-shapes in the picture are individual calcite molecules. Basically, cleavage is the outward expression of the internal structure of a mineral.
The samples on the left were collected from Midwest Lime Quarry, Batesville, Arkansas.
In the picture above, large black rectangular aegerine crystals are prominent in a rock type known as a pegmatite. Pegmatites are igneous rocks characterized by extremely large crystals. Sometimes they also contain unusual mineral species. This sample was collected from Magnet Cove, Arkansas. Magnet Cove, which is approximately 10 miles east of Hot Springs, is one of the few places in Arkansas where igneous rock is exposed at the surface.
Between 84 and 100 million years ago, magma was injected into the earth’s crust under central Arkansas where it slowly cooled and crystallized into igneous rock. Millions of years of erosion eventually unearthed that rock. Despite only being exposed over approximately 5 square miles, the rocks of Magnet Cove have yielded more than 100 different minerals. Rare minerals have been discovered there including a new variety of zirconium-rich garnet called Kimzeyite.
Pyrite, also known as Iron Pyrite (FeS2), is the most common sulfide mineral. Its most frequent crystal structure is cubic, as seen in the picture above. It also forms octahedral (8 sided) and dodecahedral (12 sided) structures. Its brassy-yellow color and metallic luster can sometimes cause it to be mistaken for gold, hence the nickname “fool’s gold”. While it may look like gold, it is much lighter and harder. Typically pyrite cannot be scratched with a knife.
Pyrite is found in many counties in Arkansas. It is used in the production of sulfuric acid, although its use is declining. The primary value of this mineral currently is as a collectible specimen. Individual crystals are commonly found up to 1 inch in diameter.
Any rockhound worth their salt knows that the best place to hunt for interesting minerals is in the void spaces in rock. Void spaces come in two types; vugs and veins. Vugs are usually found in igneous rock and result from trapped gas bubbles. Veins, on the other hand, can be found in any type of bedrock.
Veins are fractures, that have been plugged with minerals, typically by precipitation from circulating water. The above picture was taken in the Ron Coleman quartz mine, near Hot Springs, Arkansas. The near-parallel white streaks that riddle the sandstone are quartz-filled veins. The fractures resulted from the intense deformation of the Ouachita Mountains, by plate tectonic forces, around 300 million years ago. That deformation opened up space for quartz to grow in, and the tremendous heat and pressure from the mountain-building generated the mineral-rich fluid that deposited the crystals.
Even though they might look like it, those crystals in the picture above didn’t come out of a dog’s mouth. They are crystals of dogtooth calcite. Calcite (CaCO3) is the primary mineral that makes up limestone. It occurs in several crystal shapes. The two most commonly found in Arkansas are 6 sided rhombohedrons and the scalenohedral shape you see above. When it forms in this scalenohedral crystal structure it is called “dogtooth spar”.
Calcite is a very common mineral, but this particular crystal form of the mineral is typically only found in Arkansas in conjunction with the minerals sphalerite (zinc ore) and galena (lead ore) in the lead and zinc districts. Calcite is also a polymorph, like the mineral brookite from a previous geo-pic. This means calcite has “sister” minerals with the same chemical composition, but differing crystal structures. The three polymorphs of CaCO3 are: calcite, aragonite, and vaterite.
(FOV approx. 2 mm, photo courtesy of Stephen Stuart)
The wedge-shaped crystal in the photo above is the mineral titanite. This calcium titanium silicate (formula CaTiSiO5) is commonly found as an accessory mineral in igneous intrusions similar to those present at 3M and Granite Mountain quarries near Sweet Home. This sample was collected from 3M Quarry.
Titanite gets its name from its titanium content, but it was more commonly known by the name “sphene” until 1982 when the new name was officially adopted by the International Mineralogical Association. Sphene was derived from the Greek word “sphenos”, meaning wedge.
Crystals of titanite have a higher dispersion than diamonds. Dispersion is the measurement of refractive properties of a gemstone. The higher the dispersion, the more “sparkle” from the gem. However, gem quality samples of titanite are very rare, and the mineral is relatively soft compared with other gemstones.
Pictured above is a mineralized vug (approximately 3 inches long) in chert. A vug is a void or open space in a rock. Many vugs are filled with minerals after water that is saturated with a certain mineral flows through the rock. This mineralization can happen in multiple stages. The vug above was initially filled with silica-rich fluid therefore quartz precipitated out of solution and lined the walls of the vug. Afterwards calcite precipitated, as is evident from the larger crystal on the interior left of the vug.
This vug is present in a section of ornamentally banded chert. Chert is a sedimentary rock made up of microcrystalline quartz. It can be a variety of colors or banded and quite beautiful. The chert above is Devonian age (416-359 million years ago) from northwest Arkansas.