You are on page 1of 22

Mineral Identification

Step 1: Pick Your Mineral

Learning mineral identification is like learning to cook. You begin by following step-by-step
procedures and looking up a lot of things. But after a while you notice regularities, become
familiar with the usual suspects, make some productive mistakes, and get better at it until it
becomes easy and fun.

Another way mineral identification is like cooking is that professionals can go to school, learn to
use expensive equipment and master the subject fully, yet amateurs can handle nearly all the
common possibilities using just a few simple tools.

The first thing to do is to observe and test your mineral. (Review "What Is a Mineral?" for what
exactly a mineral is.) Use the largest piece you can find, and if you have several pieces, make
sure sure that they are all the same mineral. Examine your mineral for all of the following
properties, writing down the answers. After that you'll be ready to take your information to the
right place.

Step 2: Luster
Luster is the way a mineral reflects light and the first key step in mineral identification. Look for luster on
a fresh surface. The three major types of luster are metallic, glassy (vitreous) and dull. A luster between
metallic and glassy is called adamantine, and a luster between glassy and dull is called resinous or waxy.
See the gallery of mineral lusters for some examples and further explanation.

Step 3: Hardness

The Mohs scale is low-tech but time-tested.


Use the 10-point Mohs hardness scale. The important hardnesses are between 2 and 7. For this
you'll need your fingernail (hardness about 2), a coin (hardness 3), a knife or nail (hardness 5.5)
and a few key minerals. (Learn more about the Mohs scale)

Step 4: Color

Beware of color until you've learned what colors to trust.

Color is important in mineral identification, but it can be a complicated subject. Experts use
color all the time because they have learned the usual colors and the usual exceptions for
common minerals. If you're a beginner, pay close attention to color but do not rely on it. First of
all, be sure you aren't looking at a weathered or tarnished surface, and examine your specimen in
good light.

Color is a fairly reliable indicator in the opaque and metallic mineralsfor instance the blue of
the opaque mineral lazurite or the brass-yellow of the metallic mineral pyrite.

In the translucent or transparent minerals, color is usually the result of a chemical impurity and
should not be the only thing you use. For instance, pure quartz is clear or white, but quartz can
have many other colors.

Try to be precise with color. Is it a pale or deep shade? Does it resemble the color of another
common object, like bricks or blueberries? Is it even or mottled? Is there one pure color or a
range of shades?

If you have an ultraviolet light, this is the time to see if the mineral has a fluorescent color. Make
note if it displays any other special optical effects.
Step 5: Streak

Streak is an easy test that's sometimes definitive.

Streak is the color of the finely crushed mineral. Streak is somewhat more reliable than color and
is essential for a few minerals. You'll need a streak plate or something like it. A broken kitchen
tile or even a handy sidewalk can do. Scratch your mineral across the streak plate with a
scribbling motion. (Learn more about streak)

Mineral Streak
A mineral's streak is the color it has when ground to a powder. Some minerals that occur in a
range of colors always have the same streak, thus streak is considered a more stable indicator.
The great majority of minerals have a white streak, but there are a few well-known minerals for
which the streak is an important property.

The simplest way to make a powder is to grind the mineral on a small rectangular piece of
unglazed ceramic called a streak plate. Streak plates have a Mohs hardness around 7, but be sure
to check your streak plate against a piece of quartz (hardness 7) because some are softer and
some harder. The streak plates shown here have a hardness of 7.5. An old kitchen tile or even a
sidewalk can also serve as a streak plate. Mineral streaks can usually be wiped off easily with a
fingertip.

Step 6: Crystal Form and Mineral Habit


Crystal form requires study; mineral habit, not so much.

Photo (c) 2011 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
A good knowledge of crystals is very helpful once you're past the beginner stage, but often
minerals do not display any crystal faces, so for simplicity's sake we'll ignore it. For beginners, a
mineral's crystal form is less important than its cleavage (see the next step). When you're ready
to learn this aspect of minerals, you'll want a book.

One thing even beginners can do, though, is to observe a mineral's habit, the general form it
takes. There are more than 20 different terms describing habitsee most of them illustrated in
the Mineral Habits Gallery.

Mineral Habits
By Andrew Alden, About.com Guide

Habits are the distinctive form that minerals may take in different geologic settings, for instance when
growing in a free space or in a particular environment. Often a mineral's habit is a strong clue to its
identity. Here are examples of some of the most useful mineral habits.

Images 1-12 of 23
Enter Gallery

PreviousNext
Amygdaloidal Habit
Acicular Habit Bladed Habit
Banded Habit

Blocky Habit Cruciform Habit Dendritic Habit


Botryoidal Habit

Drusy Habit Encrusting Habit Equant Habit Fibrous Habit

Habits are the distinctive form that minerals may take in different geologic settings, for instance when
growing in a free space or in a particular environment. Often a mineral's habit is a strong clue to its
identity. Here are examples of some of the most useful mineral habits.

Images 13-23 of 23
Enter Gallery

PreviousNext

Geode Granular Habit


Lamellar Habit Massive Habit
Platy
Micaceous Habit Habit
Prismatic Habit Radiating Habit

Rhombohedral Habit
Reniform Habit Rosette Habit

Step 7: Cleavage and Fracture

How minerals break is a key clue to their identification.

Photo (c) 2011 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
Cleavage is the way a mineral breaks. Many minerals break along flat planes, or cleavages
some in only one direction (like mica), others in two directions (like feldspar), and some in three
directions (like calcite) or more (like fluorite). Some minerals, like quartz, have no cleavage.
Cleavage is a profound property that results from a mineral's molecular structure, and cleavage is
present even when the mineral doesn't form good crystals. Cleavage can also be described as
perfect, good or poor.

Fracture is breakage that is not flat. The two main kinds of fracture are conchoidal (shell-shaped,
as in quartz) and uneven. Metallic minerals may have a hackly (jagged) fracture. A mineral may
have good cleavage in one or two directions but fracture in another direction.

To determine cleavage and fracture, you'll need a rock hammer and a safe place to use it on
minerals. A magnifier is also handy, but not required. Carefully break the mineral and observe
the shapes and angles of the pieces. It may break in sheets (one cleavage), splinters or prisms
(two cleavages), cubes or rhombs (three cleavages) or something else.

Step 8: Magnetism

Always test for magnetism with a dark mineralit's not hard.

Photo (c) 2011 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
Magnetism is a distinctive property in a few minerals. Magnetite is the prime example, but a few
other minerals may be weakly attracted by a magnet, notably chromite (a black oxide) and
pyrrhotite (a bronze sulfide). Use a strong magnet. The magnets I use came from the corners of
an old plastic shower curtain. Another way to test magnetism is to see if the specimen attracts a
compass needle.

Step 9: Other Mineral Properties


A few other tests may sometimes be exactly the right one for certain minerals.

Photo (c) 2011 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
Taste is definitive for halite (rock salt), of course, but a few other evaporite minerals also have
distinctive tastes. Just touch your tongue to a fresh face of the mineral and be ready to spitafter
all it's called taste, not flavor. Don't worry about taste if you don't live in an area with these
minerals.

Fizz means the effervescent reaction of certain carbonate minerals to the acid test. For this test,
vinegar will do. (Learn more about the acid test)

Heft is how heavy a mineral feels in the hand, an informal sense of density. Most minerals are
about three times as dense as water, that is, they have a specific gravity of about 3. Make note of
a mineral that is noticeably light or heavy for its size. Galena, on the right, is distinctly heavy.
Sulfides and oxides tend to be dense.

You don't always need to do these tests, but remember them for the times they're called for.

Step 10: Look It Up


A few simple tests and observation will help you get the most from your reference book.

Photo (c) 2011 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
Now you are ready for mineral identification. Once you have observed and noted these mineral
properties, you can take your information to a book or to an online resource. Start with my table
of the rock-forming minerals, because these are the most common and the ones you should learn
first. Each mineral's name is linked to a good photograph and notes to help you confirm the
identification. If your mineral has metallic luster, go to my Minerals with Metallic Luster gallery
to see the most likely minerals in this group. If your mineral is not one of these, try the sources in
the Mineral Identification Guides category.

If you find yourself getting more interested in this subject, you'll benefit from a good book on
rocks and minerals. An old one is as good as a new one in many respects, and having two or
three books is better than having just one. Two of the books shown in the photo are ones I bought
used, and I have several more besides these.

This table lists the most important features of the basic rock-forming minerals.

Mineral Usual Color Crystals Cleavages Hardness Diagnostic


Biotite Black Rare 1 perfect 23 Cleavage
Calcite White Common 3 good 3 Acid fizz
Dolomite White Common 3 good 4 Acid no fizz
Feldspar White or pink Common 2 good 66.5 Hardness
Hornblende Black Common 2 (60/120) 56 Cleavage
Muscovite White Rare 1 perfect 23 Cleavage
Olivine Green Common 1 fair 6.57 Color
Pyroxene Dark Rare 2 (87/93) 56.5 Cleavage
Quartz White Common None 7 Fracture

Luster, the way a mineral reflects light, is the first thing to observe in a mineral. Luster can be
bright or dull (see the major types here), but the most basic division among the various types of
luster is thisdoes it look like a metal or not? The metallic-looking minerals are a relatively
small and distinctive group, worth mastering before you approach the nonmetallic minerals.

Of around 50 metallic minerals, just a few make up the great majority of specimens. This gallery
includes their color, streak, Mohs hardness, other distinguishing characteristics and chemical
formula. Streak, the color of the powdered mineral, is a truer indication of color than the surface
appearance, which can be affected by tarnish and stains (learn more about streak here).

The great majority of minerals with metallic luster are sulfide or oxide minerals.

Bornite Chalcopyrite Chalcopyrite in Rock Native Copper Nugget


Matrix

Copper in Dendritic Habit Galena Galena Gold Nugget


Magnetite Magnetite Crystal and
Hematite Pyrite
Lodestone

Pyrite Crystal
Forms

Brown Minerals
The most common and significant ones

By Andrew Alden, About.com Guide

See More About:

mineral color
mineral identification
rock collecting

Brown is a common color for rocks in general at the Earth's surface. It may take careful observation to
evaluate a brown mineral, and color may be the least important thing to see. Moreover, brown is a
mongrel color that blends into red, green, yellow, white and black. Look at a brown mineral in good
light, making sure to inspect a fresh surface, and ask yourself exactly what kind of brown it is. Determine
the mineral's luster and be ready to do hardness tests, too. Finally, know something about the rock that
the mineral occurs in. Here are the most common possibilities. The first fourclays, two iron oxide
minerals, and sulfidesaccount for nearly all occurrences; the rest are presented in alphabetical order.

Clays

Shale or claystone Geology Guide photo


Clay is a set of minerals with microscopic grains and colors ranging from medium brown to white. It's the
main ingredient of shale. It never forms visible crystals. Geologists often nibble on shale; pure clay is a
smooth substance with no grittiness on the teeth. Luster dull; hardness 1 or 2.

Ads

Make Your Own Gold BarsMelt Gold, Silver, Copper ,Aluminum Full line of Furnaces &
Moldsstores.channeladvisor.com

X120Mn12 Steel PlatesCanadian Distributors / Exporters Manganese Steel Plates


Mn12www.X120Mn12-steel.com

Mining Crushers-KefidMobile & Fixed Crushers for Mining, Exported to 20+countries. Contact
!www.kefidchina.com/crusher

Hematite

Botryoidal hematite Geology Guide photo

The most common iron oxide, hematite ranges from red and earthy, through brown, to black and
crystalline. In every form it takes, hematite has a red streak. It may also be slightly magnetic. Suspect it
wherever a brown-black mineral appears in sedimentary or low-grade metasedimentary rocks. Luster
dull to semimetallic; hardness 1 to 6.

Goethite

Goethite Geology Guide photo

Goethite is fairly common, but seldom concentrated in bulk form. It's much harder than clay, has a
yellowish brown streak and is well developed where iron minerals have weathered. "Bog iron" is
typically goethite. Luster dull to semimetallic; hardness around 5.

Sulfide Minerals

Chalcopyrite Geology Guide photo


Some of the metal sulfide minerals are typically bronze to brown (pentlandite, pyrrhotite, bornite).
Suspect one of these if it occurs along with pyrite or other common sulfides. Luster metallic; hardness 3
or 4.

Amber

Amber Mersey Viking (Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A fossil tree resin rather than a true mineral, amber is restricted to certain mudstones and ranges in
color from honey to the dark brown of bottle glass. It's lightweight, like plastic, and it often contains
bubbles, sometimes fossils like insects. It will melt and burn in a flame. Luster resinous; hardness less
than 3.

Andalusite

Andalusite -Merce- (Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A sign of high-temperature metamorphism, andalusite may be pink or green, even white, as well as
brown. It usually occurs in stubby crystals in schist, with square cross sections that may display a
crosslike pattern (chiastolite). Luster glassy; hardness 7.5.

Axinite

Axinite Geology Guide photo

This odd boron-bearing silicate mineral is more readily found in rock shops than in the field, but you
might see it in metamorphic rocks near granite intrusions. Its lilac-brown color and flat bladed crystals
with striations are distinctive. Luster glassy; hardness around 7.

Cassiterite

Cassiterite Wikimedia Commons


An oxide of tin, cassiterite occurs in high-temperature veins and pegmatites. Its brown color shades into
yellow and black. Even so, its streak is white, and it will feel heavy if you can get a big enough piece to
heft in your hand. Its crystals, when broken, typically show bands of color. Luster adamantine to greasy;
hardness 67.

Ads

Stone VeneerFind stone veneer manufacturers, product info and data.www.arcat.com

Inch Of Gold, Inc.Wholesale Supplier Jewelry Chain on spools "By the Inch" since
1982www.inchofgold.com

Copper

Wire Copper Geology Guide photo

Copper may be reddish brown due to impurities. It occurs in metamorphic rocks and in hydrothermal
veins near volcanic intrusions. Copper should bend like the metal it is, and it has a distinctive streak.
Luster metallic; hardness 3.

Corundum

Corundum Geology Guide photo

Its extreme hardness is the surest sign of corundum, along with its occurrence in high-grade
metamorphic rocks and pegmatites in six-sided crystals. Its color ranges widely around brown and
includes the gemstones sapphire and ruby. Rough cigar-shaped crystals are available in any rock shop.
Luster adamantine; hardness 9.

Green Minerals
The most common and significant ones

By Andrew Alden, About.com Guide


See More About:

mineral color
mineral identification
rock collecting

Green and greenish rocks get their color from green minerals, but a lot depends on the type of rock:
igneous rocks, sedimentary rocks and metamorphic rocks each have their own set of green minerals. It
will help if you know how to distinguish those major rock classes as well as "How to Look at a Rock." But
first, be sure you're looking at a fresh surface! Don't let a coat of green algae fool you. Green minerals
can be hard to identify until you've learned something about the most common ones. Here they are,
along with their usual luster and hardness. If your green or greenish mineral doesn't fit one of these,
there are many more possibilities. Another tidbit: green colors usually arise from the presence of iron or
chromium and sometimes manganese.

Actinolite

Actinolite close-up Geology Guide photo

A shiny medium-green mineral with many long, thin crystals is likely to be actinolite. Look for it
exclusively in metamorphic rocks, where it forms crystals in marble or is disseminated in greenstone. Its
color is from iron; the white variety without iron is tremolite. Luster glassy to pearly; hardness 56.

Ads

Weekly Mineral AuctionsAmazing deals on investor quality samples. Sold at far below
retail!www.mineralauctions.com/

China antique stoneCultured slate ,natural slate, quartzite, mosaic and pattern.www.slate-
quartzite.com

Home Water TreatmentFix Scale & Corrosion problems in Appliances, Kitchen &
Bathroomwww.deltawater.com.au

Chlorite

Chlorite specimen Geology Guide photo


It's the most widespread green mineral, but one you may never see by itself. In microscopic form,
chlorite gives a dull olive-green color to a wide range of metamorphic rocks from slate and phyllite to
schist. It is also found in small spots or masses in which it displays a flaky structure like that of a mica
mineral, but it gleams rather than sparkles and doesn't split into flexible sheets. Luster pearly; hardness
22.

Epidote

Typical epidote Geology Guide photo

Epidote is common in medium-grade metamorphic rocks as well as late-stage igneous rocks such as
pegmatites. It's typically a pistachio or avocado green when it occurs in the massive formcrystals have
a wider color range. Luster dull to pearly; hardness 67.

Glauconite

Glauconite in greensand Ron Schott (Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This is the usual green mineral found in greenish marine sandstones and the gardening amendment
known as greensand. It's a mica mineral, but because it forms by alteration of other micas it never
makes crystals. You'll generally see it in the form of a blue-green color rather than a separate mineral.
Luster dull; hardness 2.

Jade (Jadeite/Nephrite)

Jadeite piece Geology Guide photo

Few minerals excite the rockhound like jade, but it can be hard to distinguish. Two minerals, jadeite and
nephrite, are recognized as true jade. Both occur where serpentinite is found but form at higher
pressures and temperatures. Nephrite (a microcrystalline form of actinolite) has a hardness of 56;
jadeite (a sodium pyroxene mineral) has a hardness of 67.
Olivine

Olivine in Hawaiian basalt Geology Guide photo

Dark primary igneous rocks (basalt, gabbro and so on) are the exclusive home of olivine. It's usually
found in small clear olive-green grains and stubby crystals. A rock made entirely of olivine is called
dunite. Olivine breaks down at the Earth's surface by chemical weathering. It would rather live deep
beneath the Earth's crust, where it is most stable. Olivine gives the rock peridotite its name, peridot
being the gem variety of olivine. Luster glassy; hardness 67.

Prehnite

Prehnite balls fluor_doublet (Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Rocks metamorphosed by hot-water solutions may have prehnite crusts and botryoidal clusters along
with pockets of zeolite minerals. Prehnite has a light "bottle-green" color and is quite translucent. Any
rock shop will have prehnite specimens you can learn this mineral from. Luster glassy; hardness 66.

Serpentine

High-grade serpentine Geology Guide photo

Serpentine is a metamorphic mineral that occurs in some marbles but more often keeps to itself in the
distinctive rock serpentinite. It typically occurs in shiny, mottled, streamlined shapes and never in
crystals (except sometimes as asbestos fibers). Its color ranges from white to black but is mostly dark
olive-green. Serpentine is a sign of high-magnesium (typically deep-sea) lavas that have been thoroughly
altered by hydrothermal activity. Luster greasy; hardness 25.

Ads

Petrography - Point CountAutomatic Microscope Stepper Stage. Petroledge and Hardledge


Compatiblewww.endeeper.com
Looking for Green Class?Find Green Class on Facebook. Sign Up Free
Now!www.Facebook.com

Other Green Minerals

Mariposite Geology Guide photo

Several other minerals are typically green, but they aren't widespread and are quite distinctive. These
include chrysocolla, diopside, dioptase, fuchsite, several of the garnets, malachite, phengite, and
variscite. You'll see them in rock shops and mineral shows more than in the field.

Diagenetic Minerals
Minerals typically formed in diagenetic settings

By Andrew Alden, About.com Guide

See More About:

diagenetic minerals
sedimentary rocks

These minerals form near the surface during the consolidation of sedimentary rocks.
Barite Cuprite Malachite Smithsonite

Calcite Dioptase Opal Sphalerite

Celestine Dolomite Psilomelane Turquoise

Cerussite Fluorite Pyrite Variscite

Chalcedony Hematite Pyrolusite Willemite

Chrysocolla Hemimorphite Pyromorphite Witherite

Evaporitic Minerals
Minerals typically formed in evaporitic settings

By Andrew Alden, About.com Guide

Ads:

Rock and Minerals


Rocks Minerals
Crystal Minerals
Gems and Minerals
Mineral Crystal

These minerals form by precipitation out of concentrated solutions at surface conditions.


Anhydrite Gypsum Sylvite

Borax Halite Ulexite

Hydrothermal Vein Minerals


Minerals typically formed in hydrothermal and pegmatitic settings

By Andrew Alden, About.com Guide

Ads:

Gold Silver
Gold Mining
Rock and Minerals
Crystal Minerals
Mining for Gold

These minerals form during injection of hot fluids into existing rocks.
Bornite Feldspar Molybdenite Silver

Calcite Galena Platinum Sphalerite

Cassiterite Gold Pyrite Sulfur

Chalcopyrite Magnesite Rhodochrosite Topaz

Cinnabar Magnetite Quartz Tourmaline

Copper Marcasite Siderite


Metamorphic Minerals
Minerals typically formed during metamorphism of existing rocks

By Andrew Alden, About.com Guide

See More About:

mineral identification
metamorphic minerals

These minerals form in solid rocks under high temperatures and pressures.
Amphiboles Corundum Graphite Prehnite Serpentine

Andalusite Diamond Ilmenite Pyrophyllite Sillimanite

Aragonite Dumortierite Kyanite Pyroxenes Spinel

Axinite Epidote Lazurite Quartz Staurolite

Benitoite Feldspar Magnetite Rutile Talc

Beryl Garnets Micas Scapolite Tourmaline

Chlorite

Primary Minerals
Minerals typically formed in primary melts

By Andrew Alden, About.com Guide

See More About:

mineral identification
primary minerals

These minerals form during the solidification of a melt, in igneous rocks.


Apatite Hornblende Nepheline Spinel

Augite Ilmenite Olivine Titanite


Biotite Leucite Quartz Topaz

Enstatite Magnetite Rutile Tourmaline

Eudialyte Muscovite Sodalite Zircon

Feldspar