what is a mineral

Minerals are everywhere! Scientists have identified more than 4,000 minerals in Earths crust, although the bulk of the planet is composed of just a few. A mineral possesses the following qualities: It must be solid. It must be crystalline, meaning it has a repeating arrangement of atoms. It must be naturally occurring. It must be inorganic. It must have a specific chemical composition. Minerals can be identified by their physical properties, such as hardness, color, luster (shininess), and odor. The most common laboratory technique used to identify a mineral is X-ray diffraction (XRD), a technique that involves shining an X-ray light on a sample, and observing how the light exiting the sample is bent. XRD is not useful in the field, however. The definition of a mineral is more restricted than you might think at first. For example, glass is made of sand, which is rich in the mineral quartz. But glass is not a mineral, because it is not crystalline. Instead, glass has a random assemblage of molecules. What about steel? Steel is made by mixing different metal minerals like iron, cobalt, chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum, but steel is not a mineral because it is made by humans and therefore is not naturally occurring. However, almost any rock you pick up is composed of minerals. Below we explore the qualities of minerals in more detail.

crystalline solid

Minerals are "crystalline" solids. A crystal is a solid in which the atoms are arranged in a regular, repeating pattern. Notice that in Figure 1.1 the green and purple spheres, representing sodium and chlorine, form a repeating pattern. In this case, they alternate in all directions. Sodium ions (purple balls) bond with chlo- ride ions (green balls) to make table salt (halite). All of the grains of salt that are in a salt shaker have this crystalline structure.



Organic substances are the carbon-based compounds made by living creatures and include proteins, carbohydrates, and oils. Inorganic substances have a structure that is not characteristic of living bodies. Coal is made of plant and animal remains. Is it a mineral? Coal is a classified as a sedimentary rock, but is not a mineral.

naturally occurring

Minerals are made by natural processes, those that occur in or on Earth. A diamond created deep in Earths crust is a mineral, but a diamond made in a laboratory by humans is not. Be careful about buying a laboratory-made diamond for jewelry. It may look pretty, but its not a diamond and is not technically a mineral.

chemical composition

Nearly all (98.5%) of Earths crust is made up of only eight elements - oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium - and these are the elements that make up most minerals. All minerals have a specific chemical composition. The mineral silver is made up of only silver atoms and diamond is made only of carbon atoms, but most minerals are made up of chemical compounds. Each mineral has its own chemical formula. Table salt (also known as halite), pictured in Figure 1.1, is NaCl (sodium chloride). Quartz is always made of two oxygen atoms (red) bonded to a silicon atom (grey), represented by the chemical formula SiO2 (Figure 1.2). Quartz is made of two oxygen atoms (red) bonded to a silicon atom (grey). In nature, things are rarely as simple as in the lab, and so it should not come as a surprise that some minerals have a range of chemical compositions. One important example in Earth science is olivine, which always has silicon and oxygen as well as some iron and magnesium, (Mg, Fe)2 SiO4 .


physical properties

Some minerals can be identified with little more than the naked eye. We do this by examining the physical properties of the mineral in question, which include: Color: the color of the mineral. Streak: the color of the minerals powder (this is often different from the color of the whole mineral). Luster: shininess. Density: mass per volume, typically reported in "specific gravity," which is the density relative to water. Cleavage: the minerals tendency to break along planes of weakness. Fracture: the pattern in which a mineral breaks. Hardness: which minerals it can scratch and which minerals can scratch it. How physical properties are used to identify minerals is described in the concept "Mineral Identification." Click image to the left or use the URL below. URL: Click image to the left or use the URL below. URL:

instructional diagrams

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minerals must possess which of the following qualities:

a) must be a solid

b) naturally occurring

c) inorganic

-->  d) all of the above

which of these is not a mineral characteristic?

-->  a) color

b) solid

c) naturally occurring

d) specific chemical compound

a crystal is a solid in which atoms are arranged in a regular, repeating pattern.

-->  a) true

b) false

organic minerals are made by a natural process.

a) true

-->  b) false

four substances are described correctly, but only one is a mineral. which one is the mineral?

a) steel because people make it by mixing the metal minerals like iron.

b) volcanic glass because it is a naturally occurring random assemblage of molecules.

-->  c) table salt because it has a definite crystal structure of sodium and chlorine ions.

d) a crystallized fossil bone because it is made of minerals.

fracture describes the way a mineral breaks along planes of weakness.

a) true

-->  b) false

which of these minerals is not a mineral, but is a rock, and why?

-->  a) coal is not a mineral because it is organic, but it is a rock.

b) diamond is not a mineral because it is just carbon, but it is a gemstone and rock.

c) gold is not a mineral because it is a precious metal, but it is a rock.

d) manmade glass is not a mineral but it is a rock, because it is not naturally occurring.

mass per volume is

a) fracture

-->  b) density

c) luster

d) streak

nearly all of the minerals in earths crust are composed of only eight elements.

-->  a) true

b) false

each mineral has an exact chemical formula that never varies.

a) true

-->  b) false

diagram questions

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