You may have heard of minerals like calcium and magnesium present in some foods that are necessary for human beings to survive. You may have also heard of gold, silver, and diamond, and graphite labeled as minerals. So, what exactly are minerals?
What Are Minerals?
Think of it this way. Minerals are the building blocks of nature. Each mineral is made of a special set of elements and each mineral is distinctive and unique in what they look like. They differ in their properties, color, shape, and even how hard they are from each other. Minerals like gold and silver are used in making jewelry while quartz is used in making watches. Minerals are formed by natural geological processes and are solid. While there have been thousands of minerals identified, only a few are commonly known and used in everyday life.
How Are Minerals Formed?
It’s such a fascinating process!
Minerals are formed deep within the earth’s crust. When volcanoes erupt, hot, molten rock called magma, along with pieces of rock burst out into the earth’s surface. This is known as volcanic eruption. After the magma cools down, it becomes solid and forms a layer of skin on top. Then, minerals start to crystallize out of it and as they grow, they join together to form larger mineral structures.
A quick way to understand crystallization is to think of caramelizing sugar. As you boil water and sugar together to form a thick paste, you will notice that the sugar dissolves. When you leave it to dry, the sugar and water combination becomes solid, and that process is also called crystallization.
What Are The Different Types of Minerals?
There are primarily two types of minerals:
- a) Metallic Minerals
When metals react with other minerals, they form metallic minerals. Metallic minerals are similar in their appearance to metal and can shine also. As this type of mineral is the primary source of metal, metals can be procured from minerals through mining. Minerals found in the earth’s crust such as oxides, sulfides, carbonate, halides, and other such chemical compounds are examples of metallic minerals.
Metallic minerals are divided into two types:
Ferrous minerals: These minerals are those that have iron in abundance in their chemical compositions, as iron is one of the most easily available elements in the earth’s crust. Some examples of ferrous minerals include magnetite, hematite, and limonite. These types of minerals are also extremely important for various industries like construction, manufacturing, and transportation. Ferrous minerals are important in the production of everyday construction material like iron and steel.
Non-ferrous minerals: These minerals are those that do not contain iron in their chemical compositions. While ferrous minerals are widely used for iron and steel production, non-ferrous minerals are used across various industries extensively. Some examples include copper which is used in electrical wiring and plumbing while lead is malleable metal used in batteries and for radiation shielding. The most popular and easily identifiable examples of non-ferrous minerals are gold and silver, which are often used as jewelry or as a form of payment.
- b) Non-Metallic Minerals
As the name suggests, non-metallic minerals are those that do not contain metals in their chemical compositions. They are marked by a non-shiny or non-metallic gloss in their appearance. These types of minerals are found in sedimentary rocks and can’t be obtained by melting minerals. They are not malleable and not brittle, making them hard to break. Some popular examples of non-metallic minerals include salt (halite) that we use in cooking our daily meals. Calcite is used in the production of lime for construction while Kaolin or China Clay is used for ceramic ware, paper, and paint.
What Are Some Properties Of Minerals?
Here are some identifying properties of minerals:
- Minerals are not man made and are formed by natural geological processes.
- They are inorganic and do not come from plants or animals.
- Each mineral is made of fixed chemical composition with a particular element in specific proportions.
- As minerals are arranged of atoms and ions, they form a three-dimensional crystalline structure.
- Minerals exist as solids in normal temperatures and pressures.
- Some minerals are transparent and allow light to pass through while some are opaque.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the most common mineral found in the human body?
- What are micro and macro minerals?
- Can minerals be formed in other ways?
- How can one identify minerals?
Calcium is the most common mineral found in the human body and 99% of it is found in our bones.
Micro minerals or major minerals are minerals that are needed by the body in large amounts for its proper functioning. For instance, magnesium is essential for muscle and nerve function while sodium helps regulate blood pressure and potassium is important for nerve function.
Macro minerals, on the other hand, are also known as trace minerals, and are required by the body in smaller amounts. Iron is essential for hemoglobin in red blood cells while zinc helps wounds heal faster. Iodine is required for the production of thyroid hormones while fluoride is important for dental health and hygiene.
Minerals can also be formed deep underground. As hot water transports dissolved minerals into cracks and spaces between rocks, it can slowly leave minerals in those gaps over time in a process called precipitation. While minerals don’t come from plants and animals, they can also form in the remains of organisms that once lived. For example, skeletons of sea creatures may become minerals through mineralization.
Minerals can be identified based on their color, streak, luster, hardness, and density.
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