Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Azurite and Malachite

I know that we usually cover a ghost town today, but I'm all ghost-towned out for a second. Plus they all kinda have the same story. Miners move in, prostitutes move in, beards are grown, dirt is thrown everywhere and bam, everyone moves out. You know what we haven’t done in a long time? We haven’t learned about any new rocks. Or really any sort of geology related topic. Ghost towns are kinda geology related I guess, but they don’t really fall into any of the recognized branches of science. And isn’t that why we are here? To expand our minds and break down the flimsy walls of ignorance that seek to trap us like the proverbial beavers that we are? Ghost towns represent the past. What’s more, they represent a failed past. Rocks, um, well, they also represent the past. But in a cooler way. Well, ghost towns are pretty cool too. I dunno, look, let’s just talk about rocks and you leave me alone about it, how about that?
Today’s mineral is an interesting little fella. Most folks have seen it, but don’t know the proper name for it. In fact, here’s a list of incorrect names that this mystery mineral has been called. See if you can guess what it is before we reach the end of the list and I blow the whole mystery by just telling you what it is.

1) Ol’ Greeny
2) Ol’ Bluish-greeny
3) The Blue-greeninator
4) El Paperweight
5) Scott, get off your butt and move this rock like I told you to a half hour ago
6) A grouping of Cu ions in square, coplanar groups with two O2- and 2(OH)1- which are linked into chains parallel to the b axis
7) Lord Copper Cuddlebottom
8) That one rock, you know, that we saw in class once.

To be honest, that’s just a list of names I’ve called it. Well, me and various family members (#5). And to continue to be honest, I’ve never used anything beyond #1 and #2 and #8. But that’s what’s so great about rocks! They practically make up nicknames themselves! We just have to listen to them, and to learn the secret language of the rocks. Then decode that language, and figure out all the inflections and punctuation and crap like that. Did you know in French there’s like, a billion different ways to say “you” depending on how you are saying it? Bah. Let’s forget about rock-language for now.

In case the list wasn’t obvious, the mineral we will be looking at is Azurite. Well, Azurite and Malachite. They usually show up together, and it lets me shove two minerals into one post, which means twice the learning for us all! Efficiency is the hallmark of a good geologist. Also unkempt beards and a general discomfort in social situations. The first thing we are going to have to clear up is which mineral is which. Let’s take a look at Azurite first.

Azurite, as you can see, is blue. It is always blue. It will never be anything BUT blue. If this weren't the case then you couldn't really call it Azurite. You would have to call it Sometimes Azurite, which is stupid. This is the one time that geology will follow the rules. Now, on the other hand…

Malachite is always green. These minerals are awesome because they don’t mess with us by being different colors all the time like pretty much everything else in geology. So how do you remember which one is which? Well, here's a little poem I created just to help solve this little problem.

Malachite is rich in copper,
This much we all know
Azurite has some copper in it too
But they are both different colors and it can be confusing to remember which one is which.

There. Telling them apart is as easy as knowing the difference between a Snickers and a Twix. Oh man, could I go for one of those right now. If you squish two twix’s onto the sides of a Snickers bar then it kinda looks like a delicious spaceship.

Houston, we have a cholesterol problem. But that’s not why we are here. Let’s get back to the rocks. You want to see something cool? Look at what happens if I smoosh these two rocks together…

Viola! One rock, two minerals! All mixed together! Ahhh the unity! Two minerals working together for a common goal! I don’t know what that goal is though. Probably just to sit there. Most rocks seem to have that goal. Oh, and there’s a third little bugger in there, a little guy named Chrysocolla. It’s also bluish-green so it looks like everything else. Sometimes geology does that.
So at this point you are probably asking why you should care. I have no answer for that. Neither of these minerals really do anything all that great. Azurite has a pretty cool name I guess. And it has a really neat blue color, like a really dark, well, azure blue. Malachite sounds like a bible character, so that’s nifty. Plus it is one of only like 800 billion minerals that are green. Hey, you want to know something that’s fun to do? Have a good sized chunk of malachite in your pocket on St. Patrick’s Day. People will be all like “Hey, let’s pinch that dude/dudette” and you can be all like “As you can see, I’m carrying a carbonate copper mineral that effervesces readily in a weak acid solution!” and they will be all like “You refer to malachite, a mineral with a hardness of 3½ to 4!” Then you will all go get milkshakes. Awesome.

So let’s talk names. What the devil does Malachite mean? That is perhaps the best question that has ever been asked on the internet. And there have been a lot of questions asked on the internet. Horrible, horrible questions.

Well, the name Malachite comes from the greek word “malache”, which, of course, means “mallows”. I have no idea what a mallow is, but I guess it’s green. I looked it up and it either means...


Since Malachite is neither soft, white or delicous, I'm guessing that the greeks intended the first thing. Apparently a mallow is some sort of plant. Look at all the things we are learning.

Azurite is a lot easier. As you can see from the pictures above, Azurite is blue. But not just any sort of blue, more of an azure blue. And thus the name. If geology can’t turn to some crazy greek word, it usually just sticks with something much more obvious.

But none of this answers the question of why you should care. Well, I’m getting to that. Both Azurite and Malachite can be used as a minor copper ores. That’s why you should care. Everyone loves copper. Let’s look at a helpful graph of copper uses.

There. Everyone loves a graph. So as we can kinda see, copper is important. Sadly these two aren’t really what copper miners are after, as neither of these minerals have a whole lot of sweet sweet copper in them. They have a little copper, and a whole lot of other crap. Let’s dive into the world of the microscopic! Let’s unlock the secrets of these two earthy brothers!

For this presentation, let’s use the following table.

Using the above scientific method, let's look at Azurite....

As you can see, there are a whole lot of not happy faces in that diagram. Azurite is only 55.3% copper and 44.7% misc (25.6% CO2, 13.9% O2 and 5.2% H2O). Malachite is no better…

It clocks in with a cool 57.4% copper and 42.6% other things (19.9% CO2, 14.5% O2, and 8.2% H2O). 57.4% may seem pretty good, but there are far better ores out there. Check out this little guy...

Holy sweet leprechaun spit! That mineral is named Chalcocite, and clocks in at 79.8% copper! So the truth is that there are far better places to turn for copper than Azurite and Malachite. But don’t feel bad, both of them are still kinda useful. Jewlery has been made from both of these guys for ages, and Azurite has been used as a pigment and all sorts of stuff like that. So, cool.

For you craaazy metaphysical types, it's important to note that Malachite is perfect for the 4th Chakra, and Azurite is just the thing for the 6th Chakra.
I don't know what 85% of that sentence means. I'm assuming that it would be a bad thing if you put your 4th Chakra rock in your 6th Chakra area, so don't do that. You'll mess up all your Chakras. Is that a mexican treat? I'm going to have to look this up.

By now you all must be clamoring to get yourselves a piece of these two useless minerals. I can’t say that I blame you. But where do you go? Where in the world can you get your own blue-green paperweights? Well, if you are in Utah then you are in luck. You head out to pretty much any of the old mining districts and the stuff is all over. They don’t always form together, but usually you don’t have to look too hard to find them hiding near each other. The ghost towns of Ophir, Eureka, Silver City, Gold Hill and several others are swimming in the stuff and nice samples can be found by searching around the old ore piles that usually serve as a welcome mat to the mines. But if you aren’t in Utah (and I can’t say that I blame you), then you aren’t completely out of luck. Arizona is rife with the stuff. Or if you like a little adventure with your rock hounding, then Zaire is a good place for you to go. But you probably will need a ton of shots, and probably some guns. I would stick with Arizona.

And so there you have it. All you ever wanted to know about Azurite and Malachite.


Dan said...

Oh man, I want some so bad!!!

The hardness is relatively low. My chunk of chrysocolla that Carl gave me had a low hardness too. I polished it by hand. It looks nice. Does anyone polish malachite or azurite?

Cheetah said...

I like that chrysocolla piece you have! I couldn't even get mine to stay together on the way home.

The internet tells me that people do polish malachite, but azurite is harder to keep together.

jal said...

Anyone know an easy way to tell chrysacolla from malachite/azurite?

jal said...

Any easy way to tell the difference between Malachite/Azurite and Chrysacolla? Thanks.

Cheetah said...

Chrysocolla can be identified from Azurite and Malachite by its color. Azurite will usually be a deep blue color and Malachite will usually be a dark green color. Chrysocolla usually has a turquoise color. In fact, it's turquoise/chrysocolla that can be difficult to differentiate from each other.

jal said...

Thanks, appreciate the input.

cardboardshell said...

Super entertaining. I would have never known how much I like seeing rocks with helmets. I think I found a new fetish.

Well, no, not really. Because that would be weird.

That would be weird, right?

Yeah, that would be weird.


Jess said...

HAHAHA this just made my day! I'm currently doing an 8 page term paper on malachite, and I'm glad to see some information other than ridiculously long experiments. It's been a nice treat for my brain. :)