Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Galena! Pyrite's Greasy Cousin

Look at that! I’ve been gone for 2 weeks now! Three weeks if you consider that I didn’t put any thought whatsoever into my last post! Three weeks! What incredible adventures have I enjoyed during that time? Perhaps I visited the icy void of space? Perhaps I climbed to the bottom of the Grand Canyon? Perhaps I have spent the last three weeks hiding in my room playing with Legos? All of these are possibilities. And by possibilities I mean that I have been playing with Legos.

Let’s talk about a new rock. Pyrite seems to have been a big hit with the 20 to 30 year old demographic, so let’s see if we can continue on that success. There’s mineral that I’ve been holding back on talking about for a while now as I’m just not sure that you are ready for it. Kyanite pushed the envelope, and Azurite changed the way we look at minerals on low quality blogs. This next little guy is beyond anything anyone has ever experienced. I speak of Galena, the forgotten half-brother of Pyrite. Let’s take a look at Galena in its natural habitat (in a box on my floor).

And here is it next to some Pepcid AC.

And here is a slightly blurry picture of it in my hand.

Earlier I said that Galena is Pyrite’s half-brother (no more than two sentences ago), and I stand by that statement. First, both minerals are sulfides, meaning that they stink if you break them open. Also, you can see that both have that shiny metallic luster that drives the kids crazy nowadays. If anything, Galena is even more metallic-y than Pyrite. You’ll remember that Pyrite shows up whenever you get two atoms of sulfur and one atom of iron and let them go to town on each other. Well, Galena shows up when at atom of lead shows up, cons the iron atom out of all its money and steals one of its hot sulfur girlfriends, resulting in a chemical formula of PbS. It’s like the TV station of the same name but instead of sensible, family-friendly programming you get hot pictures of a stinky yet very shiny mineral.

Anyway, this results in a mineral that is a whopping 86.6% lead and 13.4% sulfur. Remember, Pb stands for lead cus the Latin word for lead is Plumbum. You’ll have to talk to a Greek person if you want to know what Plumbum means. A Greek family used to own a burger joint by the place I used to work. Fun!

Galena is like Pyrite in other ways. For starters, it also likes to form in cubes. The problem with the pieces that I have is that I had to bash them up to make me feel like a tough guy. So you can’t see the cubic pattern anymore. But the internet is here to help us out!

I also drew a picture of a cube for the Pyrite post. So if you are having a really hard time picturing it you can always refer to that. Just for fun here’s a picture of report I made on the Civil war in 7th Grade.

I don’t remember making this report. The only page in which I actually did any work was one where I guess I was supposed to describe the complex events leading up to the Civil War through the provocative medium of stick-figure.

This goes on for several pages. My favorite one is where a faceless man is telling a sleeping midgit that someone is pro-slavery. I guess I don’t remember enough about this period of history as none of these pictures seem to make any sense. But I got full marks on the report, so eat it everyone else.

Back to Galena. Sometimes Galena shows up in other forms too. Again, I’m going to resort to drawing them. Only the best for the internet.

That, my friends, is called a Dodecahedron. Or possibly a Triscotahedron. The book I’m reading this out of is vague about which is which. Anyway, sometimes Galena shows up as one of those. Plus, check out that sweet APR rate I can get on that credit card! 0% for a year! I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I’m pretty sure that I’m doing better than you financially.

A final similarity between Galena and Pyrite is that it is actively destroying the environment. It is the noble heritage as a sulfate that results in Galena releasing sulfuric acid as it weathers. I covered this all in the Pyrite post, but I shouldn’t have to tell you that sulfuric acid isn’t good for us. Obviously this warning isn’t meant for acidic monsters who are likely safe from the ravages of your standard acids.

I’m afraid the similarities between Pyrite and Galena end there. Galena is nowhere near as hard as Pyrite, clocking in with a hardness of only 2½. This means that a penny could give Galena a beating that it won’t soon forget. Also, Galena is incredibly heavy. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as the thing is nearly 90% lead, but it is still a shock to pick up a piece of the stuff and feel the muscles in your torso give way. Not even Robocop could withstand the gravity-rich nature of Galena.

Another difference between Pyrite and Galena is that Galena is actually useful to us. You like lead? Well, this is the mineral you have to thank for it. It is practically our only source of the stuff. Luckily, Galena is nearly as common as Pyrite (the two often form together!) so we won’t be running out of lead any time soon. Now, a lot of bad press has been going around about lead because it is highly toxic to living things. I think I heard once that Beethoven died because he kept drinking out of a lead cup. While it is true that lead likes to get inside of us and just mess with things, it also has some useful applications. Batteries use lead somehow. Also lead is one of the few things that can slow up radiation, so we use it in our radioactive things. Like robots.
But the miracle of Galena doesn’t end there. Galena usually also contains a healthy dose of our little friend Silver…

Now, I don’t have to tell you what silver is used for. Which is good because I don’t want to. Sometimes, every now and then, the atom of lead wife-swaps with an atom of silver, and the two have a steamy affair that ends up being very profitable for us. Which means, once again, this guy…

Will keep his eyes out for the stuff. Galena is the target ore material in several mines due to the fact that it usually contains a small percentage of the valuable other things (in addition to lead, which is valuable and deadly. Like love). After silver, these include zinc, arsenic, and whatever Cd, Sb, and Bi stand for. Elements, I suspect. Hey, I’m not here to teach you things! Leave me alone.

The formation of Galena is very similar to that of Pyrite. I’m not going to post those pictures again because I’m lazy, so you will just have to go look at the Pyrite post. As a summary, Galena largely forms in veins of rocks that have been altered by fluids filled with all sorts of minerals. It’s like when that lady turned into a robot in one of the Superman movies. The scene scared the crud-biscuits out of me because I was scared that one day I might turn into a robot. I used to stand in front of a mirror to check myself for robot-themed changes. Thankfully puberty was as close as it got.

Galena is Latin for “Galena”! This is yet another example of geology being lazy. Galena is a name that the ancient Latinians gave to lead-based ore in general. So it has stuck through the ages. Much like lead in the human liver.

And so, the sun sets on yet another mineral. I think we have all learned a few things here today. Remember that part where we talked about silver being in Galena? Ahh, the memories. Hey, why not read it again? I’m not going to tell anyone! Go for it! Maybe there’s information in there you missed! Do it!
I don’t care if you read it again. I’m going to go play with Legos.


Bunnie said...

I found your blog through your brother Jeff, who I went to school with. I always liked Jeff because of his quirky sense of humor, that obviously runs in the family. So you can pretty much blame him for posting the link on his Facebook page. Or thank him. Whatever. I try not to get involved in family issues, not even my own.
Any how...I'm taking a geology class at SLCC right now and your post about the pyrite actually helped me answer a few questions in class and I got to feel all smart and smug. I'm not really all that into rocks, but your posts make me laugh and I accidentally learn some stuff. So, thanks for that.

Dan said...

I checked my crystal galena ball, and it said you have a long and promising future with Bunnie. You luck guy, you.

Cheetah said...

Jeff eh? Yes, I remember him. He posted a link to my blog did he? This pleases me. I will destroy him last.

I'm glad that you have gained some useful information through this blog. I was worried that after all the crudely drawn stick-figures that all the educational value had been lost. I promise to stuff each post with even more accidently educational material!

Cheetah said...

Someone googled this blog looking for "Is galena the ONLY place where we can get lead?" The answer is no, there are other minerals that contain lead that are used as ore. Galena is just the most prolific. Cerrusite is a lead carbonate that is used as a lead ore, and anglesite is another lead sulfide that has been used! Knowledge is power!