Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Smithsonite - It hasn't ever heard of you either.

Sadly, not all minerals are interesting.

No, the truth is that the vast majority of minerals border on being rather dull. And the majority of those are guilty of being downright boring. Have you ever heard of anglesite? No? Well, how about smithsonite? No again? Well, there's a reason for that. It's because they're boring. And it would be blog suicide to mention them with these hallowed halls of earthy knowledge.

With that in mind, let's discuss smithsonite.

Contrary to my initial paragraph, I really like smithsonite. But I kinda like all minerals, so my opinion isn't worth the electronic paper it's typed on. But most people find most minerals to be mostly boring. I think this has to do with the fact that it is impossible to take the usual qualities that endear us to an object and apply them to a mineral. You can call a golden retriever loyal, playful and dedicated, and people will think you are a fine pet owner, but if you try to describe a piece of pyrite as being loyal, people are going to try to distance themselves from you. They may even do that if you bring up pyrite in the first place.


Do not attempt to bring up minerals in a casual conversation unless you have been receiving signals that indicate that the opposing party is interesting in hearing about the subject. Even then, proceed with great caution. Failure to follow this simple guideline can lead to headaches, disinterest, and frequent Saturday nights spent painting small pewter figurines by yourself in the basement.


To be completely honest, I think smithsonite is actually one of the more interesting minerals. Here's some pictures of it with some of various unusual things that occupy my room. If you are going to be the kind of guy or gal who decorates with rocks, then it's important to completely give up on a fully functional social life early on. Once you do that, you can post pictures of the weird stuff you've collected over the years on the internet without worrying about how it may be crippling other people's opinions of how you spend your free time.

Smithsonite also looks good next to NBA bobble heard figures.

Aaaaaan here it is on top of some Morton's Salt

You'll note that all the pieces of smithsonite I own happen to be light green in color, which is fairly common. But it can come in any color you want. The hip version comes in pink.

Whereas the republican version comes in blue.

Isn't that one cool? So blue! It's from a place called the Kelly Mine in New Mexico. It costs a ton to get stuff from there, so I had to...borrow....that picture. Anyway, those are the most common colors. There's a version that is yellow that people have named Turkey Fat ore, due to it looking strikingly similar to a glob of melted turkey fat. There's a legend that to be accepted as being a tough miner you had to eat a pile of pancakes grilled up in yellow smithsonite. I just made that up.

Sometimes other minerals show up with smithsonite. In fact, most of the time other minerals show up with smithsonite. You don't care, but here's some pictures anyway.

The little green spots on both of those pieces is roasaite. It's a zinc-copper mineral with a bunch of other stuff in it. Maybe I'll talk about rosasite later, I don't know. Leave me alone.

But as long as we are talking about zinc (which I'm not sure we were, but for the sake of moving along let's just say that we were), let's talk about what we can find within smithsonite. Remember how both pyrite AND galena had sulfur in them? Well, forget about that! There's no sulfur in smithsonite! See you in hell, sulfur!

So, the only logical thing to do now is make some smithsonite. The first thing you will need to do is track down your local zinc dealer. Order up two or three sacks worth.

I only threw that picture in there to break up all this text. Plus, who knows, maybe that guy is a zinc dealer. Probably not though.

Next we are going to need some CO3. Go find some of that. Did you check under your couch cushion? Sometimes CO3 likes to hang out there. Once I found a half-eaten burrito and some other stuff in a couch I bought at a discount store.

Anyway, if you are able to track down those two ingredients, mix them together for a couple million years and Bam! There you go. ZnCO3. That means that smithsonite is approximately 64.8% ZnO and 35.2% CO2. Not bad at all. The fact that it as CO2 in it instead of sulfur means that smithsonite is a carbonate mineral. There are other carbonate minerals. If you are so into this that you can't wait for me to cover them in blog posts, then you can always go to your local library and look them up. Nerd.

Hey, just to mix things up, want to see what smithsonite looks like when it still resides in a mine? I know I do! That probably means you do too! Well, here we go!

That's a picture from the Hidden Treasure Mine. That was one of the scariest places I've ever been. I hope you appreciate that picture.

Well, let's look at the other aspects of smithsonite. It runs in the middle of the pack with regards to hardness, clocking in at a steady 4 to 4.5 on the Moh's hardness scale (as opposed to rating a 9 on the Oh! scale). I forget what exactly that means. I think it means that a penny can't scratch it, but a steel knife will dominate it. Something like that. In addition, it has a vitreous luster. So, that's pretty good to know. Don't confuse that weird, bubbly look that it has with the vitreous luster. That's a whole different characteristic, namely it's called being botryoidal. That's cool word. You should use it more in daily life.

A final thing you will notice about smithsonite is that it is pretty heavy. But what would you expect from a mineral with a specific gravity of 4.30? I don't know what that means either. There's a lot about minerals I don't know.

Probably the greatest thing about smithsonite is that it fizzes. You read that right, it fizzes. In fact, if you had enough acid, you could make it fizz until it was completely gone. So let's all run down to our local acid dealer!

That guy deals in quite a few things it would seem.

Now, let's watch this little educational video I've put together! I'm pretty sure it will really make us think.....


And for the end credits!

That credit is wrong. The main character used to be named "Timmy" before I realized that "Cornelius" is a funnier name. Good marketing is very important when you are in the business of making movies about chemical reactions.

You see, the HCl acid makes the CO3 in our mineral go all nuts! What's great is that ALL carbonate minerals will do that! In fact, in the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that the rock used in that movie was not smithsonite at all. It was, in fact, calcite, which has the chemical formula of CaCO3. I worked too hard to those pieces of smithsonite to go all acid crazy on them. In theory the reaction would be the same though. I don't have to defend myself to you.

So, if you really want to know WHY that happens, let's look at the following chemical formula that I found on someone else's website. Nothing get's blog viewership up like a chemical formula.


When the ionic substance is in aqueous solution, and added to HCl, the products will be CO2 gas, a metal chloride (in this case zinc) and water.

Ionic Equ: 2H(1+) + CO3(2-) = CO2 +H2O

Now some of you may look at that and say "Of course! The metal coming from the original ionic substance"! Those people need to look at themselves and feel shame. Anyway, what's say we watch another movie I made. This one features me yelling at some seals!


Moving along, lets look into how smithsonite got its name. The answer may surprise you. Or, like everything else we've seen in geology, the answer will probably seem pretty unoriginal. It was named after a guy named James Smithson. This guy, in fact.

Look at him! Hey, fella, save some forehead for the rest of us! Anyway, this is the very same James Smithson who founded the Smithsonian Institute. He first discovered our little blue/pink/green friend in 1802, but it is considered tacky to name minerals after yourself. So he had to wait until 1832 until some french guy named Francois Sulpice Beudant finally did it for him. He might as well called it Hugeforeheadite.

So what can we use smithsonite for? That's a fair question, and I'm a fair man. As such, let me impart all sorts of valuable knowledge to you. The answer is that it really isn't good for a whole lot. Some people like to make jewelry out of it, and it seems like it worked out for them pretty well for them. Look at this stuff!

In addition to being used for adorning our women, smithsonite can be used as an ore of zinc. People use zinc for all sorts of things. I know that those vitamins that old people are supposed to take that have zinc in them. Centrum Silver I believe they're called. I watched an infomercial on Centrum Silver once that told me that old people aren't getting nearly enough zinc. If it's good enough to be on an infomercial at 2 in the morning, it's good enough to be on my blog.

Look at how long this post is! So much valuable information! Let's take a break while I use the bathroom. I'm putting this bear in charge while I'm gone.

One final question that must be plaguing your little minds is the matter of how smithsonite forms. Well, that's a good question. The answer is a fancy word. Namely, that word is Supergene Processes, which is really two words I guess. You drop the term "Supergene Processes" at a party and you will be the hit of the season. You don't even need to know what it means to sound super cool, which is good because I'm in no mood to explain it.

Alright, I'll explain it. But just so you don't go blaming me when you are at one of those swanky geology parties that I never get invited to and use the term "Supergene Process" wrong.

And when I say that I'm going to describe it to you, what I mean is that I'm going to tell you to go google it.

And so the sun sets on another mineral. I think we've all learned a lot here. I know I have. I learned that sometimes blogspot fails when you are trying to post and then all the stuff you've made up about some mineral is lost forever. Hey, I have an idea! Let's go read it again! Remember how much fun it was the first time? Maybe there's something we missed! Let's go see!


Dan said...

GENIUS! Pure Genius. I love the forehead part.

Kim said...

My friend bought a couch on Craigslist and it came with a free dead cat inside. The best (worst?) part was he didn't find it for a couple weeks.

And the image you have in your head right now is my Christmas present to you.

You're welcome.

Cheetah said...

Luckily I have never found any significant organic material in any of my upholstered belongings. The problem with finding a dead cat in your couch is that it would likely result in the couch being badly haunted for the rest of its existence.

pemeta said...

My son found some pyrite in his school sandpit yesterday. I mentioned it on FB about 30 minutes ago. No-one has de-friended me yet. Some folks even engaged me in friendly chit-chat.

Stumbled over your site whilst trying to identify a strange shiny olive opaque green stone I found. Am none the wiser about the stone, but I know lots more about Smithsonite now...

Chile Fart said...

I love SPAM.