Forget Diamonds, Try World’s Rarest Minerals For A Special Valentine

Posted: Feb 14 2016, 12:07am CST | by , Updated: Feb 15 2016, 10:21pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Forget Diamonds, Try World’s Rarest Minerals for a Special Valentine
Nevadaite has striking blue crystals that are also barely visible. Credit: (Robert Downs / University of Arizona

Scientists have cataloged the rarest minerals in the world for the first time ever.

For the first time, scientists have cataloged all the rarest minerals in the world. A total of 2,550 minerals have made their way to this elusive category and these minerals are far more rare than diamonds, which are thought to be the most precious gems on the Earth. Some of them such as ichnusaite, fingerite, amicite and nevadaite are truly rare minerals and are found only in five or fewer sites around the globe. 

These minerals form only under extreme and unusual conditions and their worldwide supply is smaller than a sugar cube. Since they are so rare and logically more precious than diamonds, rubies and emeralds, these minerals could potentially replace these precious gems as exotic gifts for Valentine’s Day. But there are a few problems associated with them. Some of them tend to melt, evaporate or dehydrate over time and few are like vampires which cannot withstand temperature and perish on exposure to sun.

Scientists Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution and Jesse Ausubel of The Rockefeller University suggest that many gems including diamonds do not meet the definition of rare as tons of them are pulled out of the ground each year.

"Diamond, ruby, emerald, and other precious gems are found at numerous localities and are sold in commercial quantities, and thus are not rare in the sense used in this contribution. Uses of the word 'rare' in the context of 'rare earth elements' or 'rare metals' are similarly misleading, as many thousands of tons of these commodities are produced annually.” Authors wrote in the study.

There are 5,090 minerals have discovered to date. Around 100 of them make up 99% of the Earth’s crust and around 2,550 minerals can be termed as rare. And they are found in very few locations worldwide. For instance, mineral ichnusaite is a true rarity with only one specimen ever found in Sardinia a few years ago. Nevadaite’s striking blue crystalline mineral only been found in two places - Eureka County and a copper mine in Kyrgyzstan. 

These minerals require conditions that rarely take place in near-surface environment. They are formed at certain temperatures, pressure and the combination of such chemical elements which are almost never found together in Earth’s crust. 

“For example, the mineral hatrurite is formed from three of Earth's most abundant elements - calcium, silicon, and oxygen. But hatrurite forms only in a very restricted environment with temperatures above 1250°C—many times hotter than the boiling point of water—and in the absence of another extremely common element, aluminum.” 

Some minerals, on the other hand, are created with extremely rare elements like beryllium, hafnium and tellurium. These are rare elements which form relatively few minerals.

Some minerals are formed only as a result of extreme environments such as the flanks of erupting volcanoes or freezing cold, remote regions of Antarctica. Of those 2500 minerals, researchers cite mineral fingerite from El Salvada as a “perfect storm of rarity.”

Fingerite forms under extremely restrictive conditions from rare elements. It is water soluble and disappears when rained upon. It comes from dangerous volcanic fumeroles near active volcanoes and only found near Izalco Volcano in El Salvador.

These rare minerals are not only beautiful and majestic but they also help understand the diversity of Earth’s mantle and offer clues about sub-surface conditions and elements that created them.

“We live on a planet with remarkable mineralogical diversity, featuring countless variations of color and form, richly varied geochemical niches and captivating compositional and structural complexities. Rare species, comprising as they do more than half of the diversity of Earth's rich mineral kingdom, thus provide the clearest and most compelling window into complexities of the evolving mineralogical realm.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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