A new challenge has scientists searching for dozens of unknown, beguiling crystals BY SID PERKINS 11:04AM, OCTOBER 4, 2016
CAN YOU DIG IT? Abellaite, leószilárdite and ewingite (clockwise from left) are three of the seven carbon-bearing minerals recognized by the International Mineralogical Association in the past year. A search is on to find dozens more undiscovered carbon minerals. LEFT: MATTEO CHINELLATO; RIGHT: TRAVIS OLDS
Magazine issue: Vol. 190, No. 8, October 15, 2016, p. 22
Like many abandoned mines, the Eureka uranium mine in northern Spain is a maze of long, dank tunnels. Water seeping down the walls carries dissolved substances that percolated through rocks overhead. As the water evaporates into the tunnels’ cool air, some of those dissolved ingredients combine to make new substances in solid form.
“The mine is a crystallization factory of weird minerals,” says Jordi Ibáñez-Insa, a physicist at the Institute of Earth Sciences Jaume Almera in Barcelona.
Including the uranium-bearing ores that attracted miners to Eureka in the first place, scientists visiting the mine have cataloged 61 different minerals — solids that have a distinct chemical recipe and arrangement of atoms. The latest find, called abellaite, is a rarity that grows in small pincushions of tiny crystalline needles about 40 to 50 micrometers long. Discovered in July 2010, the mineral has been found only on the walls of a 3-meter-long stretch of one tunnel, says Ibáñez-Insa.
Abellaite is uncommon in another sense: It contains carbon. Of the 5,161 minerals characterized by scientists and recognized by the International Mineralogical Association, just 8 percent, or 416, include carbon.
The Carbon Mineral Challenge, launched last December and running until September 2019, exhorts researchers to scour the landscape — and their museum drawers — for unknown carbon-bearing minerals. In a recent analysis, scientists estimate that there are at least 548 carbon minerals on Earth. That means well over 100 are waiting to be noticed.
The analysis, published in the April American Mineralogist, even provides clues about where scientists and rock hounds should look and what recipes and atomic arrangements such minerals might have.
LONDON (Reuters) - A 29.6 carat blue diamond, one of the rarest and most coveted in the world with a possible price tag of tens of millions of dollars, has been discovered at a South African mine by Petra
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