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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rock Hounding, or where you can go beyond Prospecting

Uncut emerald one of the many members of the family of beryl minerals
Photo by Ryan Salisbury

Rock hounding is many faceted hobbies that make use of various earth materials as its objective.  Rock hounds can range in expertise from the rank amateur that collects pretty pebbles to world class experts on gemstones and minerals.  One of the branches of rock hounding is prospecting for gold and other precious metals.  There are many other fields of study that open to the rock hound as his level of knowledge increases.  Many rock hounds discover that over time rock hounding becomes a full time job.

One of the first things that have to be considered is the number of actual minerals there are, and of the latest count there were over 2000. Another thing that deserves a great deal of study is the number of minerals contained in each of the primary rack systems igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. Each of these rocks systems contain some very specific minerals that are only found in one system. That being said has to be recognized that many mineral bridge more than one system. Probably one of the most outstanding examples of this is the occurrence of zircon they can be found in all three rock types.

Rhodocrosite from Argentina
Photo by Alberto Salguero

No doubt the most important thing most rockhounds want to learn is the identity of the different minerals they have found. This can be quite difficult considering the number of minerals that are recognized, but if you gold belt this systematically it becomes much simpler. All minerals have specific characteristics that are readily recognized that can take several forms. Many of these ways of recognizing minerals and trace their origin back to ancient times. The ancient Egyptians were quite adept at this practice and their knowledge of chemistry and mineral recognition was quite advanced.

There are a number of different ways of identifying a specific mineral among them are: hardness, color, specific gravity, transparency and fracture. One of the most accurate ways of identifying all minerals is by a process called x-ray diffraction spectrometry or what is commonly called a powder camera that is used by professional mineralogists. A powder camera admittedly is beyond the realm of rock hounds, but there are several tools that are still available to them.

Azurite the blue mineral with malachite the green mineral from Russia
Photo by Aramgutang

The most common of these tools are the hardness testing kit that you can build yourself that are based on being able to scratch a sample. The hardness testing kit is based upon Moh’s Scale of Hardness that ranges from 1 to 10 with talc being the softest and diamond the hardest. Although you can purchase hardness testing kits you can easily make your own from readily available minerals. You can Google Moh's Hardness Scale on the Internet that will give you a list of the different minerals by hardness that are in the scale.

The next most important thing to consider is the mineral's specific gravity. The law of specific gravity was discovered by Archimedes in the city of Syracuse, Sicily during the days of the Romans. Each mineral is first weighed in the air and then weighed in water the difference between the two numbers is the specific gravity of the mineral. Once again a complete explanation of this can be found by Googling the phrase specific gravity.

Color and transparency are self-explanatory and most books on mineral identification are set up to show minerals by their color and chemical composition. Fracture is yet another important tool used in mineral identification.


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