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Title: What is a Mineral
Level: Intermediate
Time: 1-2 days
KERA Goals: 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6

A mineral is something in nature that is neither a plant nor an animal.  Many minerals commonly occur in association with coal.  In the eastern United States pyrite is one such mineral.  Most rocks contain two or more minerals. To identify a mineral, you need to look for many things.

  1. Look for color. Some minerals are light in color, others are dark  They may be white, yellow, pink, red, blue, green, gray, or even black.  Color is not always the best way to identify a mineral.   Many minerals have extra chemicals in them that give them a different color than expected.

  2. Check for texture, or feel.  Minerals may be rough, like sand, others may be smooth or chalky. Run your fingers on the rock.  What does it feel like?

  3. Look for luster, or shininess. Some minerals shine brightly, like metal. Others may look dull or glassy.  Still others may have a pearly luster, like the inside of a seashell.

  4. Check for hardness. You can test a mineral for hardness by scratching it. Is it soft enough to scratch with your fingernail? Maybe a penny or a knife is needed to scratch the mineral.

  5. Look for streak. Scratch a porcelain plate with the mineral. What color did it leave on the plate? Many times a mineral leaves a streak that is a different color than it appears to be.

  6. Look for how the mineral breaks apart.

Mohs Scale of Hardness:

NumberMineral Can be Scratched by
1-- softest talc 
2gypsum fingernail
3calcite copper penny
5apatite pocket knife
6orthoclase window glass
7quartz steel file
10-- hardest diamond  

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Provided by The Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc.