Chemistry: CaCO3, Calcium Carbonate
Uses: Plastic, food, paint-varnish, cable, paper, agriculture, adhesive etc.
Calcite, which gets its name from “chalix” the Greek word for lime, is a most amazing and yet, most common mineral. It is one of the most common minerals on the face of the Earth, comprising about 4% by weight of the Earth’s crust and is formed in many different geological environments. Calcite can form rocks of considerable mass and constitutes a significant part of all three major rock classification types. It forms oolitic, fossiliferous and massive limestones in sedimentary environments and even serves as the cements for many sandstones and shales. Limestone becomes marble from the heat and pressure of metamorphic events. Calcite is even a major component in the igneous rock called carbonatite and forms the major portion of many hydrothermal veins. Some of these rock types are composed of better than 99% calcite. With calcite so abundant and so widely distributed it is no wonder that it can be so varied. The crystals of calcite can form literally a thousand different shapes by combining the basic forms of the positive rhombohedron, negative rhombohedron, steeply, moderately and slightly inclined rhombohedrons, various scalahedrons, prism and pinacoid to name a few of the more common forms. There are more than 300 crystal forms identified in calcite and these forms can combine to produce the thousand different crystal variations. Calcite also produces many twin varieties that are favorites among twin collectors. There are also phantoms, included crystals, color varieties, pseudomorphs and unique associations. There simply is no end to the varieties of calcite.
There are several varieties of calcite and it would be impossible to describe them all. However there are a few standouts. Possibly the most well known of calcite’s varieties is its most common form, the classic scalenohedron or “Dogtooth Spar” as it is sometimes called. . This variety appears as a double pyramid or dipyramid, but is actually a distinctly different form. The point of the scalenohedron is sharp and resembles the canine tooth of a dog, hence the name.
Not necessarily a variety of calcite, cave formations are certainly a unique aspect of calcite’s story. Calcite is the primary mineral component in cave formations. Stalactites and stalagmites, cave veils, cave pearls, “soda straws” and the many other different cave formations that millions of visitors to underground caverns enjoy are made of calcite. It is the fact that calcite is readily dissolved that these formations occur. Overlying limestones or marbles are dissolved away by years and years of slightly acidic ground water to percolate into the caverns below. In fact the caverns themselves may have been the result of water dissolving away the calcite rich rock. As the calcite enriched water enters a relatively dry cavern, the water starts to evaporate and thus precipitate the calcite. The resulting accumulations of calcite are generally extremely pure and are colored if at all, by very small amounts of iron or other impurities.
Physical Characteristics of Calcite
- Color is extremely variable but generally white or colorless or with light shades of yellow, orange, blue, pink, red, brown, green, black and gray. Occasionally iridescent.
- Luster is vitreous to resinous to dull in massive forms.
- Transparency: Crystals are transparent to translucent.
- Crystal System is trigonal; bar 3 2/m
- Crystal Habits are extremely variable with almost any trigonal form possible. Common among calcite crystals are the scalenohedron, rhombohedron, hexagonal prism, and pinacoid. Combinations of these and over three hundred other forms can make a multitude of crystal shapes, but always trigonal or pseudo-hexagonal. Twinning is often seen and results in crystals with blocky chevrons, right angled prisms, heart shapes or dipyramidal shapes. A notch in the middle of a doubly terminated scalenohedron is a sure sign of a twinned crystal. lamellar twinning also seen resulting in striated cleavage surfaces. Pseudomorphs after many minerals are known, but easily identified as calcite. Also massive, fibrous, concretionary, stalactitic, nodular, oolitic, stellate, dendritic, granular, layered, etc. etc.
- Cleavage is perfect in three directions, forming rhombohedrons.
- Fracture is conchoidal.
- Hardness is 3 (only on the basal pinacoidal faces, calcite has a hardness of less than 2.5 and can be scratched by a fingernail).
- Specific Gravity is approximately 2.7 (average)
- Streak is white.
- Other Characteristics: refractive indices of 1.49 and 1.66 causing a significant double refraction effect (when a clear crystal is placed on a single line, two lines can then be observed), effervesces easily with dilute acids and may be fluorescent, phosphorescent, thermoluminescence and triboluminescent.
- Associated Minerals are numerous but include these classic associations: Fluorite, quartz, barite, sphalerite, galena, celestite, sulfur, gold, copper, emerald, apatite, biotite, zeolites, several metal sulfides, other carbonates and borates and many other minerals.
- Best Field Indicators are crystal habit, reaction to acid, abundance, hardness, double refraction and especially cleavage.