Selenite (mineral)

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Not to be confused with Selenite (ion).
Selenite
SeleniteClearTabularWillowCreekAlberta.jpg
General
Category Sulfate mineral
Formula
(repeating unit)
CaSO4·2H2O
Identification
Formula mass 172.17
Color Brown green, Brownish yellow, Greenish, Gray green, Gray white
Crystal habit Earthy - Dull, clay-like texture with no visible crystalline affinities, (e.g. howlite).
Crystal system Monoclinic (2/m) Space Group: A2/a
Cleavage [010] Perfect, [100] Distinct, [011] Distinct
Fracture Fibrous - Thin, elongated fractures produced by crystal forms or intersecting cleavages (e.g. asbestos).
Mohs scale hardness 2
Luster Pearly
Streak white
Specific gravity 2.3
Optical properties Biaxial (-) 2V=58
Refractive index nα=1.519-1.521, nβ=1.522-1.523, nγ=1.529-1.53
Birefringence δ =0.0090-0.0100
Other characteristics non-radioactive, non-magnetic, Fluorescent.
References [1]
Selenite cluster from Naica mine, Chihuahua, Mexico

Selenite, satin spar, desert rose, and gypsum flower are four varieties of the mineral gypsum; all four varieties show obvious crystalline structure. The four "crystalline" varieties of gypsum are sometimes grouped together and called selenite.

All varieties of gypsum, including selenite and alabaster, are composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate (meaning has two molecules of water), with the chemical formula CaSO4·2H2O. Selenite contains no significant selenium; the similarity of names comes from both substances being named from the Ancient Greek word for the Moon.

History and etymology[edit]

The etymology of selenite is through Middle English selinete, from Latin selenites, from Greek selēnitēs (lithos), literally, moonstone or stone of the moon, from selēnē (Moon). The ancients had a belief that certain transparent crystals waxed and waned with the moon. From the 15th century, "selenite" has referred specifically to the variety of gypsum that occurs in transparent crystals or crystalline masses.[2]

Identification of crystals as gypsum[edit]

All varieties of gypsum are very soft minerals (hardness: 2 on Mohs Scale). This is the most important identifying characteristic of gypsum, as any variety of gypsum can be easily scratched with a fingernail. Also, because gypsum has natural thermal insulating properties, all varieties feel warm to the touch.

Varieties[edit]

Though sometimes grouped together as "selenite", the four crystalline varieties have differences. General identifying descriptions of the related crystalline varieties are:

Selenite[edit]

  • most often transparent and colorless: it is named after Greek σεληνη= "the moon".
  • if selenite crystals show translucency, opacity, and/or color, it is caused by the presence of other minerals including druse (a coating of small crystal points)
  • druse is the crust of tiny, minute, or micro crystals that form or fuse either within or upon the surface of a rock vug, geode, or another crystal

Satin spar[edit]

  • most often silky, fibrous, and translucent (pearly, milky); can exhibit some coloration
  • the satin spar name can also be applied to fibrous calcite (a related calcium mineral) – calcite is a harder mineral – and feels greasier, waxier, or oilier to the touch.

Desert rose[edit]

  • rosette shaped gypsum with outer druse of sand or with sand throughout – most often sand colored (in all the colors that sand can exhibit)
  • the desert rose name can also be applied to barite desert roses (another related sulfate mineral) – barite is a harder mineral with higher density

Gypsum flower[edit]

  • rosette shaped gypsum with spreading fibers – can include outer druse
  • the difference between desert roses and gypsum flowers is that desert roses look like roses, whereas gypsum flowers form a myriad of shapes

Use and history[edit]

Because of the long history of the commercial value and use of both gypsum and alabaster, the four crystalline varieties have been somewhat ignored, except as a curiosity or as rock collectibles.

Crystal habit and properties[edit]

Crystal habit refers to the shapes that crystals exhibit.[3]

Selenite crystals commonly occur as tabular, reticular, and columnar crystals, often with no imperfections or inclusions, and thereby can appear water or glass-like. Many collectible selenite crystals have interesting inclusions such as, accompanying related minerals, interior druse, dendrites, and fossils. In some rare instances, water was encased as a fluid inclusion when the crystal formed (see Peñoles Mine reference in external links).

Selenite crystals sometimes form in thin tabular or mica-like sheets and have been used as glass panes[4][5] as at Santa Sabina in Rome.

Selenite crystals sometimes will also exhibit bladed rosette habit (usually transparent and like desert roses) often with accompanying transparent, columnar crystals. Selenite crystals can be found both attached to a matrix or base rock, but can commonly be found as entire free-floating crystals, often in clay beds (and as can desert roses).

Satin spar is almost always prismatic and fibrous in a parallel crystal habit. Satin spar often occurs in seams, some of them quite long, and is often attached to a matrix or base rock.

Desert roses are most often bladed, exhibiting the familiar shape of a rose, and almost always have an exterior druse. Desert roses are almost always unattached to a matrix or base rock.

Gypsum flowers are most often acicular, scaly, stellate, and lenticular. Gypsum flowers most often exhibit simple twinning (known as contact twins); where parallel, long, needle-like crystals, sometimes having severe curves and bends, will frequently form “ram’s horns”, "fishtail", "arrow/spear-head", and "swallowtail" twins. Selenite crystals can also exhibit “arrow/spear-head” as well as “duck-bill” twins. Both selenite crystals and gypsum flowers sometimes form quite densely in acicular mats or nets; and can be quite brittle and fragile. Gypsum flowers are usually attached to a matrix (can be gypsum) or base rock.

Color[edit]

Gypsum crystals are colorless (most often selenite), white (or pearly – most often satin spar), gray, brown, beige, orange, pink, yellow, light red, and green. Colors are caused by the presence of other mineral inclusions such as, copper ores, sulfur and sulfides, silver, iron ores, coal, calcite, dolomite, and opal.

Transparency[edit]

Gypsum crystals can be transparent (most often selenite), translucent (most often satin spar but also selenite and gypsum flowers), and opaque (most often the rosettes and flowers). Opacity can be caused by impurities, inclusions, druse, and crust, and can occur in all four crystalline varieties.

Luster[edit]

Both selenite and satin spar are often glassy or vitreous, pearly, and silky – especially on cleavage surfaces. Luster is not often exhibited in the rosettes, due to their exterior druse; nevertheless, the rosettes often show glassy to pearly luster on edges. Gypsum flowers usually exhibit more luster than desert roses.

Play of color[edit]

Fibrous satin spar exhibits chatoyancy (cat’s eye effect).

When cut across the fibers and polished on the ends, satin spar exhibits an optical illusion when placed on a printed or pictured surface; and is often called and sold as the “television stone” (as is ulexite). Print and pictures appear to be on the surface of the sample.[6]

Some selenite and satin spar specimens exhibit fluorescence or phosphorescence.

Tenacity[edit]

All four crystalline varieties are slightly flexible, though will break if bent significantly. They are not elastic, meaning they can be bent, but will not bend back on their own.

All four crystalline varieties are sectile in that they can be easily cut, will peel (particularly selenite crystals that exhibit mica-like), and like all gypsum varieties, can be scratched by a fingernail (hardness: 2 on Mohs Scale). The rosettes are not quite as soft due to their exterior druse; nevertheless, they too can be scratched.

Selenite crystals that exhibit in either reticular or acicular habits, satin spar, in general (as fibrous crystals are thin and narrow), desert roses that are thinly bladed, and gypsum flowers, particularly acicular gypsum flowers, can be quite brittle and easily broken.

Size[edit]

See also: Cave of the Crystals

All four crystalline varieties can range in size from minute to giant selenite crystals measuring 11 meters long such as those found in the caves of the Naica Mine of Chihuahua, Mexico. The crystals thrived in the cave's extremely rare and stable natural environment. Temperatures stayed at 58 °C, and the cave was filled with mineral-rich water that drove the crystals' growth. The largest of those crystals weighs 55 tons, is 33 feet long, and is over 500,000 years old. [7]

Occurrence[edit]

Gypsum occurs on every continent and is the most common of all the sulfate minerals.

Gypsum is formed as an evaporative mineral, frequently found in alkaline lake muds, clay beds, evaporated seas, salt flats, salt springs, and caves. Gypsum, also, is frequently found in conjunction with other minerals such as, copper ores, sulfur and sulfides, silver, iron ores, coal, calcite, dolomite, limestone, and opal. Gypsum has been dated to almost every geologic age since the Silurian Period 443.7 ± 1.5 Ma.[8]

In dry, desert conditions and arid areas, sand may become trapped both on the inside and the outside of gypsum crystals as they form. Interior inclusion of sand can take on shapes such as, an interior hourglass shape common to selenite crystals of the ancient Great Salt Plains Lake bed, Oklahoma, USA.[9] Exterior inclusion (druse) occurs as embedded sand grains on the surface such as, commonly seen in the familiar desert rose.

When gypsum dehydrates severely, anhydrite is formed. If water is reintroduced, gypsum can and will reform – including as the four crystalline varieties. An example of gypsum crystals reforming in modern times is found at Philips Copper Mine (closed and abandoned), Putnam County, New York, USA where selenite micro crystal coatings are commonly found on numerous surfaces (rock and otherwise) in the cave and in the dump.[10]

Whereas geology, mineralogy, and rockhounding groups, clubs, and societies as well as museums usually date (of find and geologic), photograph, and note location of minerals, much of the retail mineral and jewellery trade can be somewhat casual about dates, locations, and descriptive claims.

Images[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Gypsum Mineral Data". Weinrich Minerals, Inc. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  2. ^ Etymology of selenite from the New Collegiate Dictionary.
  3. ^ "Habit". The mineral identification key. Mineralogical Society of America. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Kristallgrotte - photograph of selenite crystals in the (below)". 
  5. ^ Jochen Duckeck (27 December 2011). "Marienglashöhle". showcaves.com. Retrieved 20 October 2013.  Show Mine, Germany - selenite was commonly used in Germany during medieval times for glass panes in windows and, in particular, for coverings of pictures of the Madonna. In Germany, this form of selenite was usually referred to as Marienglas or Mary’s Glass.
  6. ^ Jeffrey Shallit and Peter Russell. "Ulexite or Satin Spar Gypsum? The Scoop on "Television Stone"". University of Waterloo, Canada.  discussion whether ulexite or satin spar is the “real” television stone. When the optical illusion that some satin spar can exhibit was “discovered”, satin spar was “marketed” as ulexite, rather than as a gypsum variety. Ulexite is a different mineral.
  7. ^ Alleyne, Richard (2008-10-27). "World's largest crystal discovered in Mexican cave". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  8. ^ Surface Mining - Industrial Minerals - Gypsum and Anhydrite, Richard H Olson, Edwin H Bentzen, III, and Gordon C Presley, Editors, SME - Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, USA
  9. ^ Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma, USA - website showing photographs of sand-colored hour-glass formations in clear selenite columnar crystals
  10. ^ Anthony’s Nose, New York, USA: A Review of Three Mineral Localities, by John Betts, John Betts-Fine Minerals - page down to read about Philips Copper Mine and the re-formation of selenite crystals

External links[edit]