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Meteorite or Meteorwrong

Quartz, Calcite, Magnetite, Hematite, & Micas

 

Although for convenience we sometimes state here that the minerals quartz, calcite, magnetite, hematite, and micas do not occur in meteorites, these statements are not entirely true. Each of these minerals are among the many minerals listed by Rubin (1997a,b) and Rubin and Chi (2017) that have been observed in some meteorites. However, all these minerals are minor to rare in any type of meteorite and don’t occur naturally at all in the most common types of meteorites.

There is no type of meteorite in which quartz would be evident without the aid of a petrographic microscope and a petrographic thin section. It takes skilled petrographers considerable effort to find and identify silica minerals in meteorites. With regard to quartz, Rubin (1997a) mentions it only in the discussion of enstatite chondrites, eucrites, and basaltic shergottites, all rare types of meteorites. Enstatite chondrites and eucrites contain minor amounts (a few percent, at most) of free silica (tridymite, cristobalite, and quartz). Less than 1% of all known meteorites are enstatite chondrites and <1% are eucrites. In the basaltic shergottites (~0.05% of meteorites, but quartz has only been reported from a few), it is an accessory mineral (<1% of volume). (See e.g., Shergotty in the Mars Meteorite Compendium.) Some other achondrites contain trace amounts of the silica polymorphs, tridymite and cristobalite. If you can see quartz with the naked eye, then the rock is not a meteorite. The standard field test for quartz is the scratch test

Magnetite and hematite are oxides of iron. Magnetite occurs as a trace to minor mineral in several kinds of meteorites. Rubin (1997a) states that it is the “principal oxide phase in the CK chondrites,” a rare type of meteorite (0.3%). Geiger and Bischoff (1995) found that the modal abundance of magnetite ranged from 1% to 8% in the 19 CK chondrites that they studied. Thus, a large CK chondrite with 8% magnetite might deflect a compass needle.

“Although hematite blueberries have not been reported in martian meteorites, grains of hematite do occur” (Rubin and Chi, 2017). Hematite does not occur naturally in other meteorites, but occurs in many meteorites, e.g., iron finds (Buchwaldt (1977) as a terrestrial weathering product. Iron rust is mainly hematite. Most meteorites contain iron metal. That metal will begin to rust soon after the meteorite falls. Any meteorite that looks rusty or has reddish staining probably contains some hematite, but a freshly fallen meteorites will not contain hematite. Not all hematite is rusty colored; some is gray. The standard field test for hematite is the streak test.

A rusty (hematite) metal grain in Northwest Africa 5000 (lunar). (Photo by Randy Korotev)

Rubin (1997a) states that "Carbonates occur as veins and aggregates in CI chondrites; the aggregates probably formed from fragmented carbonate veins. The principal phases are ferroan magnesite, siderite, dolomite, and pure calcium carbonate (vaterite and/or calcite);" references are given. As of December 1999, there were only 5 CI chondrites known among more than 22,000 meteorites cataloged by Grady (2000). Rubin (1997a) also states that "Phyllosilicates [e.g., micas] occur in the matrix and the interiors of chondrules... Associated with the phyllosilicates are Ca-carbonates and magnetite." Again, however, these mineral occur in very small quantities. Some meteorites may contain minor calcite as a result of weathering on Earth. This calcite might be evident in veins upon hand inspection.

The vein-filling white material on the right-hand side of this photo of Northeast Africa 001 (lunar) is nearly pure calcite from terrestrial weathering. (Photo by Randy Korotev)

References

Buchwald V. F. (1977) The mineralogy of iron meteorites. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society London A 286, 453–491.

A 286, 453–491. Geiger T. and Bischoff A. (1995) Formation of opaque minerals in CK chondrites. Planetary and Space Science 43, 485-498.

Grady M. M. (2000) Catalogue of Meteorites, With special reference to those represented in the collection of the Natural History Museum, Fifth Edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 689 pp and CD-ROM.

Rubin A. E. (1997a) Mineralogy of meteorite groups[RLK1] . Meteoritics & Planetary Science 32, 231-247.

Rubin A. E. (1997b) Mineralogy of meteorite groups: An update. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 32, 733-734.

Rubin A. E. and Chi M. (2017) Meteoritic minerals and their origins. Chemie der Erde – Geochemistry, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chemer.2017.01.005

 

 

 

Prepared by: Randy L. Korotev

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
Washington University in St. Louis

Please don’t contact me about the meteorite you think that
you’ve found until you read this and this.

 

e-mailkorotev@wustl.edu

Last revised: 9 October 2018

 


 [RLK1]