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Doubly refracting Calcite from Iceberg claim, Dixon, New Mexico. This 35 pound crystal, on display at the National Museum of Natural History, is one of the largest single crystals in the United States.
Doubly refracting Calcite from Iceberg claim, Dixon, New Mexico. This 35 pound crystal, on display at the National Museum of Natural History, is one of the largest single crystals in the United States.
The carbonate mineral calcite is a calcium carbonate corresponding to the formula CaCO3 and is one of the most widely distributed minerals on the Earth's surface. It is a common constituent of sedimentary rocks, limestone in particular. It is also the primary mineral in metamorphic marble. It also occurs as a vein mineral in deposits from hot springs, and also occurs in caverns as stalactites and stalagmites. Calcite is often the primary constituent of the shells of marine organisms (e.g. plankton, bivalves, etc.). Calcite represents the stable form of calcium carbonate; aragonite will change to calcite at 470°C.


Properties - Contents

Calcite crystals are hexagonal-rhombohedral, though actual calcite rhombohedrons are rare as natural crystals. However, they show a remarkable variety of habit including acute to obtuse rhombohedrons, tabular forms, prisms, or various scalenohedrons. Calcite exhibits several twinning types adding to the variety of observed forms. It may occur as fibrous, granular, lamellar, or compact. Cleavage is usually in three directions parallel to the rhombohedron form. Its fracture is conchoidal, but difficult to obtain. It has a Mohs hardness of 3, a specific gravity of 2.71, and its luster is vitreous in crystallized varieties. Colour is white or colourless, though shades of gray, red, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, or even black can occur when the mineral is charged with impurities. Calcite reacts when it comes into contact with dilute hydrochloric acid causing effervescence and the release of carbon dioxide gas. This is the only mineral to do so, and limestone and marble, rocks composed of calcite, will also react with acid.
Calcite from Brushy Creek Mine, Missouri, USA.
Calcite from Brushy Creek Mine, Missouri, USA.
Calcite from Middle Atlas, Morocco.
Calcite from Middle Atlas, Morocco.
Calcite is transparent to opaque and may occasionally show phosphorescence or fluorescence. It is perhaps best known because of its power to produce strong double refraction of light, such that objects viewed through a clear piece of calcite appear doubled in all of their parts - a phenomenon first described by Rasmus Bartholin. A beautifully transparent variety used for optical purposes comes from Iceland, called Iceland spar. Acute scalenohedral crystals are sometimes referred to as "dogtooth spar".
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