Monday, January 4, 2010


It's the slow time of year at my job, so I'm going to talk about Kyanite (it's a mineral). Kyanite isn’t a very popular, which is why I suspect that only a select few people are even aware this mineral exists. In fact, most of us are perfectly content to go about our lives while being completely ignorant of Kyanite altogether. I consider it the Nissan Cube of the mineral world.

Before we can learn about Kyanite we have to discuss a very important, somewhat boring geology principle. The principle of metamophism. Now, I don't know a lot of fancy/correct words that I can use to describe metamophism, so I'm going to have to stick with what a I know. Metamorphic rocks are like the “Mr. Toads Wild Ride” amusement attraction at Disneyland. At least I think it is. I didn’t really understand that ride. I remember that we join Mr. Toad on some wild car ride in which you nearly run down several animatronic forest creatures, but then you get hit by a train and wind up in hell. Once the little car I was in got stuck in the “hell” part of the ride for a good five minutes while they tried to figure out what was wrong with the ride. That may not seem all that important, but to a seven year old that’s a pretty long time to be stuck in hell. Anyway, yes, metamorphic rocks are just like Mr. Toads wild ride. Also, they are like the really shy girl that nobody likes and works at the library, but then later turns out to be totally hot when she takes off her glasses and shakes her hair.
There. Wait, I think we may need more of a background. To truly understand the process of metamorphism, it is helpful to see the process take place. Unfortunately for us, the process of metamorphism can take millions of years and a good amount of heat and pressure to complete, which, unless you are some sort of volcano-god, you probably won't have available. But, with a little ingenuity, we can still get a good idea of how metamorphism works using common household items. For this experiment, you will need….
1) A delicious donut

2) A pile of dirty laundry
And that's it. The first step in our homemade metamorphic process is to set the donut on the ground. I have a picture of this, but I really don't think it's necessary. Simply let go of donut and this step will pretty much take care of itself. This donut will represent a rock of some sort. A sweet, tasty rock. We have placed it on the ground because that is where most rocks are found.
Now, here's where things get good. Take the laundry and throw it on top of the donut.

We have placed the laundry on top of the donut in order to generate pressure upon the donut and thereby hopefully initiating the metamorphic process. Now we play the waiting game. Let the laundry-donut pile sit for a good half hour.

While in nature metamorphism can take much longer than a half hour, we all have important things to do and don’t have the time to sit around running geological experiments. So a half hour will have to do. Finally, pull the laundry off the donut and you will find that the resulting mess no longer looks anything like the donut you started with.

Bam! Our donut has metamorphoseded into a statue!

DISCLAIMER!!! Now, sadly, if any of you actually try this experiment at home, you will find (as I did) that you won’t actually see any real difference in the donut under the pile of laundry. This, of course, means that you can’t expect to get any sort of fashionable Native American statue out of this, nor can you expect the donut to turn into any other type of baked good, like a fritter, crawler, scone or tart. More likely, you can expect to get a foul smelling donut and some slightly dirtier laundry. But the ideas behind our experiment were sound. The donut forms in a bakery, much like a rock forms through various earth processes. Then, much like piling a bunch of laundry on top of the donut, the rock is buried or otherwise comes into contact with unusually high pressures and/or heat. Then some lucky individual (could be you!), is lucky enough to come across the donut/rock and is rewarded with some sort of donut/rock that altogether different than the donut/rock that you started with. Alright, now we have the keys to enter the magical kingdom of Kyanite!

Let’s take a look at Kyanite in person…

Based on these pictures we can tell….
1) Kyanite seems to have a light blue color. Or at least some of it does. Some of it is dark blue. It's like a pool we used to have when I was young. Once it got a ton of caterpillers in it. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I'm about to metamophose all over the keyboard.
2) Some of it is see-through. Just the edges though. The rest are as dark as a hobo's beard.
3) Kyanite isn’t as heavy as magnetite, but it is pretty heavy.
4) Some parts of it are sharp. Those parts suck.
5) Kyanite may or may not be Santa Claus.
6) It forms in tightly-grouped, bladed crystals. It’s like nature’s Swiss army knife.

This may not seem like it, but it is a good start. Well, factoids 1, 2, and 6 are good anyway. 3 and 4 aren’t all that great. 5 is pretty much in there as filler.

I could go into the uses of Kyanite, but I have another thing I want to get out of the way first. Sadly, one of the most interesting things about Kyanite is something you can’t tell by looking at it. But, lucky for you, I’m here to fill you in on the dirty little secret. Kyanite has not one, but TWO identical family members. That's right, there are two additional minerals that have the exact same chemicals within them at the exact same proportions as Kyanite, yet don’t have a single thing in common with it! Just to make sure we cover the Kyanite family tree, let's look at these two even less well-known, boring minerals.....

We have a little feller named Andalusite....

and another little feller named Sillimanite…

Here’s a picture of Andalusite being mocked at a party.

It is rarely a good idea for minerals to go to human parties. Our worlds are just too different.

Anyway, the question arises of how three different minerals formed from the same hodge-podge of elements. All three minerals are created by mixing 63.2 percent of aluminum

With 36.8 percent of sand

And .0000001 percent of love…

And then, like we’ve said, sticking the sandy, can-filled love mixture under a preverbal pile of laundry for a good long time. But what if we were to stick a portion of the mixture under a small pile of laundry, and another portion of the mixture under a much bigger pile of laundry? Or what if one of the laundry piles was on fire? The answer is that you end up with three very different minerals. Let’s look at a graph of it. Everyone loves graphs.

Go ahead! Give it a try! Pick a pressure and a temperature and see which earthy child you would get if you had the power to fuel metamorphism! Will it be noble Kyanite, clever Sillimanite, or timid, disappointing Andalusite? Ahhh, what fun.

So, in general, we can see that Kyanite forms when the laundry pile is huge (high pressures), Andalusite forms when the when the pile is small but also pretty hot (low pressures, high temperatures), and Sillimanite forms when you have a huge pile of burning laundry (high pressures, high temperatures). Neat! All three minerals have different colors, hardness’s, crystal habits (not meth-related) crystal habits (meth-related), luster, and so on and so forth.

Now we can get to the uses of these minerals. Oddly enough, even though all three minerals are completely different, all three are used in the manufacture of spark plugs. Not a particularly noble calling, but whenever you fire up your (heaven help us) Nissan Cube, you can rest assured that kyanite, sillimanite and andalusite are hard at work making it happen. They are also used for jewels if they are see-through.

Anyway, enough about Sillimanite and Andalusite. Kyanite is the man of the hour. The word Kyanite comes from the greek word “Kyanos”, which means “blue”. I am suspecting that this is because the mineral is blue. Sometimes geology isn’t all that creative.

Let’s get into harnesses. Now, I know we are all used to thinking of a mineral having a single, defining hardness, a single universal truth that can be used to describe the mineral’s resistance to pennies, knives and glass. But we are going to have to think outside the box with Kyanite. We are really going to have to chase the white rabbit down the rabbit hole. A whole new paradigm. You see Kyanite has TWO harnesses. How can that be? Is nothing we know true? Relax, it’s really quite simple. It's like petting a kitty cat. When you scratch the cat straight down its back, it loves it, and the petting goes off without a hitch. But, if you try to pet the kitty cat from side to side then the thing freaks out and petting becomes only a distant memory. And so it is with Kyanite. When you scratch the crystals in a direction parallel to the crystal, then it has a hardness of 5, which means that with a little work, you could break of a prison cell made of Kyanite with a good knife. But, what if we scratch Kyanite in a different direction? Surely it will be the same? NOPE!!

Suddenly Kyanite has a superhuman hardness of 7, meaning that knives have no more chance of scratching Kyanite than me ever getting back the stereo that was stolen out of my car. A hardness of 7 is a pretty impressive thing. Diamonds, the kings of the hardness world are at 9, so that's only 2 more than 7. I tried this scratching test at home and it totally worked, but you can't really see what I'm doing in the pictures. So I'm going to just post a picture of Kyanite beating up Aquaman. The premise is the same.

So, where can you find this magnificent mineral for yourselves? Once again, I have to admit that like most of my collection, I had to buy my piece. If you aren’t picky then I suppose you could just go pluck a sparkplug out of your car and be content, but I suspect this will trigger some sort of check engine sensor, then you can’t get your car inspected. But you won't regret owning a piece of Kyanite. It makes a mean door stop.


Dan said...

when i eat donuts the metamorphose results look like the andalusite, but the hardness is greatly reduced to less than 2.2-2.5, for my fingernails have readily accidentally scratched the new mineral. It also smells real bad.

Cheetah said...

Personal geology is a dangerous pastime! I strongly encourage you to not collect samples.

Dan said...

what if i wanted to date it? how can i keep it from becoming contaminated?

Anonymous said...

I found this blog with one question in mind, and I am wondering if you might possibly have the answer I'm looking for.

If I were to, say, buy a kyanite loose stone or perhaps a ring, how would I know what the hardness is?

The property of varying hardness has been worded in different ways via different resources, raising questions for me about the property. I read from one source that its one hardness when *cut* along the axis, versus against the axis. Does that mean a skilled cutter would be able to cut it so the 7 side is facing up? Or that if cut right the whole stone would be a 7 in hardness? Or is the entire stone always variable, using your cat-petting analogy as reference to this?

And finally, if the last one is the case, getting a kyanite ring is probably an entirely useless idea, yeah?

Cheetah said...

Hey Chevauxdebois!

Well, that's a good question. I have never seen a jewel-grade kyanite. In the piece I have it is very easy to see which direction the crystals are growing, so it is easy to see the 7 hardness side vs the 5 hardness side. On a nicely prepared jewel specimen, that may not be easy to see....

The hardness variability thing is an interesting feature. The problem here is that there will always be an exposed axis with a hardness of 5, and there's no way to avoid this. It isn't really a SIDE that had a hardness of 5 so much as a dimension. I can't tell if this makes sense.

A five is still pretty good. It can take a pretty good hit and keep going. A kyanite ring would be a pretty cool thing. If you can find one, I say get it!

Hope this helps....

Bonnie the Boss said...

I believe I have some of this on my rock collection. I am going to have to dig it out and see.

The Hill said...

I wonder how many times Lex Luthor has accidentally ordered Kyanite by mistake. I bet that happens a lot.